Before the echoes of the gavel signifying defeat of a U. S. House of Representatives farm bill proposal that has been years in the making died out, representatives from both sides of the aisle began the inevitable and inexcusable finger pointing that promises to make reworking the bill even more difficult.

The Republicans blamed the Democrats for trying to protect the nutrition program; the Democrats blamed the Republicans for cutting too deeply into nutrition programs and for a failure of leadership. Apparently lost in the debate is what would be best for America’s farmers and ranchers, public-funded research and the nation’s food security.

The final vote tally on the bill was 195 for and 234 against, with 171 Republicans voting for the bill and 62 against. Twenty-four Democrats voted for the bill and 172 voted against it.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, expressed disappointment in the vote on a bill his committee has worked on for several years. “I’m obviously disappointed,” Lucas said in a statement following the vote, “but the reforms in H.R. 1947 - $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 - are so important that we must continue to pursue them. We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need."

His Democrat counterpart, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., House Agriculture Committee ranking member, was less optimistic and a bit more accusatory in remarks following the vote.

The farm bill failed to pass the House today because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party, Peterson said. “From day one I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together. Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law.

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“This flies in the face of nearly four years of bipartisan work done by the Agriculture Committee. I’ll continue to do everything I can to get a farm bill passed but I have a hard time seeing where we go from here.”

Farm group reactions

Cotton organizations expressed disappointment in the House’s failure to pass a bill many felt would be of significant benefit to the industry.

National Cotton Council Chairman Jimmy Dodson, a South Texas cotton producer, said, “U.S. farmers need a stable, long term policy in order to continue to make the substantial investments necessary to continue to adopt new technology necessary to provide safe, affordable food and fiber to U.S. processors and consumers and to maintain competitiveness in world markets.

“The U.S. cotton industry is deeply disappointed that the House failed to approve the legislation approved by the Agriculture Committee on a strong bipartisan vote after two years of extensive debate and consideration of hundreds of amendments.”

"This legislative package adequately met the needs of cotton producers across the Cotton Belt, and was the best we could have expected in this budgetary climate," Plains Cotton Growers President Craig Heinrich, a cotton grower from Slaton, Texas, said. "This bill saved money, reformed and streamlined programs, and gave farmers assurance that they could continue to grow food and fiber to feed and clothe this nation and the world, and it is a shame that it could not make it to conference where some key differences could have been resolved." 

PCG Executive Vice President Steve Verett expressed appreciation to the House Agriculture Committee on both sides of the aisle for their efforts. "… Chairman Frank Lucas, Ranking Member Collin Peterson, Subcommittee Chairman Mike Conaway and the entire House Ag Committee have done everything they could to cut the deficit, reduce the size and scope of government, and achieve necessary reform through the creation of this farm bill," Verett said. "They are to be commended, and we will continue to stand behind them as we all work to pass a five-year bill that works for agriculture to support America's economy." 

Other commodity groups also expressed disappointment.

Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said, “Congress must not give up on this vital legislation. Texas Farm Bureau will continue working with the House Agriculture Committee and Texas delegation to complete this bill and ensure essential risk management tools are in place to allow farmers certainty both now and in the future.”

The United Fresh Produce Association said the defeat of the bill “leaves questions as to future of farm programs.

“We felt we had a very strong bill for specialty crops that was supported by members from both sides of the aisle,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy. “We strongly encourage the House Leadership and the House Agriculture Committee to get back together and bring back to the House floor a bill that can pass before the current extension expires at the end of September.”

NSP disappointed

National Sorghum Producers Chairman Terry Swanson, a sorghum farmer from southeast Colorado, said: “National Sorghum Producers is proud of the hard work and leadership put forth by Chairman Frank Lucas, Ranking Member Collin Peterson and their staff in putting forth a fair and equitable bill. We are disappointed the House was unable to come to an agreement resulting in its passage, but NSP will continue to work with leadership to eventually pass a five-year farm bill."

The Dairy Farmers of America called the defeat “a blow to dairy. Despite the agriculture community’s best effort, with a vote of 195–234 the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a farm bill.”

The dairy industry had already taken one blow when the Goodlatte-Scott amendment, authored by former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, stripped the Dairy Market Stabilization Program from the underlying bill.

“Regardless of the loss on Goodlatte-Scott, Dairy Farmers of America remained supportive of final passage of the farm bill to keep the momentum going on a bill that is vital to so many aspects of the American agriculture sector,” said John Wilson, senior vice president. “Farm families across the nation rely on the provisions in the farm bill, and that they will continue to operate under outdated and inadequate policies is truly disappointing.”

No plan B

The National Association of Wheat Growers called the defeat “stunning and calls into question how long-term farm policy will be enacted before a current one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill expires on Sept. 30. After the vote, both House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., vowed to press onward in their chamber, though neither offered a plan B for the bill. Like most in the farm community, NAWG is in the process of evaluating legislative options and determining how best to support lawmakers in the coming weeks and months of debate.”

The American Soybean Association encouraged both parties to find a way to pass a farm bill. “It is incumbent on both Republicans and Democrats to find a way forward for American agriculture.”

ASA President Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss, issued the following statement: “Today’s failure leaves the entire food and agriculture sector in the lurch. Once again, the nation’s soybean farmers and the 23 million Americans whose jobs depend on agriculture are left holding the bag.

“This bill would have reinforced the farm safety net, promoted our products in foreign markets, strengthened the fast-growing biodiesel industry, (and) enhanced conservation programs.”

ASA also noted the advantages of a “stable, affordable and safe supply of food, feed, fiber and fuel that it would have ensured for all Americans. Now, none of those benefits can be realized and a debilitating uncertainty extends from farmers to consumers as we all face the expiration of farm bill programs on Sept. 30.”

On the other hand

Not all response to the farm bill defeat has expressed disappointment. Heritage Action for America said passage of the bill would have rewarded “the unholy alliance that has long dominated America’s agriculture and nutrition policy.” Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham said:“Today is a victory for the taxpayer and the free market. Now is the time for the House to recognize what so many others have: The unholy alliance…must end.”

The National Taxpayers Union likened the farm bill proposal to Soviet-style farm programs and applauded the defeat as a victory “for the nation’s taxpayers.  

“The saying goes: you reap what you sow – and opportunistic politicians found out the hard way that the massively expensive, subsidy-stuffed, farm bill was not a viable crop,” said NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift. “Taxpayers, as well as fans of open, accountable government, will be glad to see this command-and-control boondoggle wilt.”

An NTU statement said: “In addition to opposing the basic premise of the Soviet-style farm bill, NTU backed reform efforts to split the food stamp and farm management portions of the legislation, delete wasteful programs like the Sheep Industry Improvement Center (taxpayer loans for sheep farming), and reduce and means-test crop insurance windfalls.”

Wildlife weighs in

The National Wildlife Federation said if passed the bill would have been the worst in 25 years. In a statement released Thursday, NWF said, “The House bill failed any test of responsibility that taxpayer dollars wouldn’t be spent in ways that harm our land, water, wildlife and the public good. It’s critical to enact a five-year farm bill this year that protects conservation.”

“The House farm bill failed commonsense conservation standards, and it failed to get enough votes to pass,” said  NWF president and CEO Larry Sweiger. “Reasonable measures to protect taxpayers and natural resources must be included in a farm bill. The National Wildlife Federation will continue to fight for a farm bill that includes a link between conservation compliance and crop insurance and a National Sodsaver program.”

NWF singled out a “loophole” the organization says would have “lead to draining 1.5 to 3.3 million acres of wetlands and greatly increased soil erosion and nutrient pollution into our lakes, streams, rivers and coastal waters.

“It is outrageous that the House Agriculture Committee leaders opposed this wholly reasonable, basic conservation provision to protect the public good,” Schweiger said.

Earlier in the week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had encouraged passage of the bill during a trip to Lubbock, Texas. He pointed to several aspects of the proposal that would benefit agriculture and the nation.

“It has something for everyone,” Vilsack said, “and it’s important to say that in order to be able to encourage, urban and suburban legislators to understand that this is a bill that impacts their constituents just as much as it impacts somebody on a farm or ranch.”

He pointed out the economic protection for farmers the bill would have provided.

“There is a strong safety net commitment built on crop insurance and supplemented with a revenue protection program that will replace the direct payment system that has come under a lot of criticism,” he said. “There’s the credit—the ability of our work at USDA to provide credit assistance to farmers who might have a difficult time otherwise getting credit.

“There is the conservation title. There’s no question in my mind farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of our land, water and air, but they need help and assistance especially in this difficult time with the variation of climate that we’re confronting.”

Marketing, too, is an important aspect of the farm bill, he said. “The ability of producers not just to market in a commodity-based market operation, where sometimes larger operators have a bit of an advantage, but allowing that producer to have a direct relationship with the consumer by selling directly at a farmers market or in a grocery store or to a local school,” is important.

Funding agriculture research is a crucial aspect of a sound farm program, he said.

“There’s a research title that expands research and a commitment to research. In this particular bill there’s an opportunity to create new and leveraged resources for research by creating a foundation.”

For the moment, none of those positive aspects of the farm bill is going anywhere. The Senate Agriculture committee passed a farm bill earlier this year and committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow suggested that the House could put that proposal up for a vote.

Some observers believe work on another House bill could begin as early as next week. Others, like Peterson wonder where they can find common ground for the extreme factions in each party.

 

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