No Movement on Farm Bill as Congress Heads Home for Recess
Following last week’s abrupt vote in the House of Representatives to reject the farm bill, little progress appears to have been made this week in terms of a pathway forward as Congress observes the July 4 recess. Very little information is coming from House Agriculture Committee, although there have been some closed door discussions with leaders. Right now, a plausible scenario being considered by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is the possibility of going back to Rules Committee and asking for the House-committee passed version of the farm bill to be brought back to the floor with a closed rule limiting the number of amendments.
There is also increasing discussion among some House lawmakers about splitting farm and nutrition policy components of the bill into two pieces of legislation. This concept threatens the bi-partisan nature of the farm bill and the ability to attract rural and urban support. There is also serious doubt if a majority of Republican lawmakers would support passage of solely the farm policy components, with many farm policy reformers ultimately voting against the farm bill last week.
Much has been made about who is to blame for the farm bill’s failure in the House. American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl offers some perspective on the important questions surrounding the farm and food policy debate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has joined the chorus of Senate leaders encouraging the House to bring up the Senate-passed farm bill for a vote. Legislation identical to the Senate-passed bill was introduced this week in the House by Representatives Dave Loebsack, D – Iowa, Cheri Bustos, D – Ill., and Bruce Braley, D – Iowa. However, House consideration of the Senate language at this point seems an unlikely scenario given differences between the two bills on commodity programs.
American Farmland Trust continues to call for a comprehensive, five-year reauthorization as the best outcome for conservation, beginning farmers and local food programs. Policy differences in the House bill aside, we need the farm bill process to move forward so that it can be improved in conference with the Senate-passed bill. Please send a letter to your representative today urging them to support passage of a five-year farm bill.
House to Consider Ag Approps
The House appears set to consider fiscal year 2014 agriculture spending when it returns following the July 4 recess. The House yesterday approved an open rule for consideration of the bill which will allow any member to submit amendments.
The legislation would provide $19.5 billion in discretionary funding for agriculture programs. Included would be $810 million for technical assistance under NRCS Conservation Operations, an increase of over $40 million what the agency received for fiscal year 2013. However the bill also cuts over $500 million from mandatory farm bill conservation programs. American Farmland Trust and a coalition of conservation groups have urged rejection of cuts to conservation programs.
We are particularly concerned that conservation technical assistance funding could be cut further, as conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation target technical assistance to be eliminated in the appropriations bill.
White House Climate Announcement
President Obama made a major announcement on climate change this week, laying out his administration’s agenda for addressing carbon emissions, increasing renewable energy production, maximizing energy efficiency and helping communities adapt. American Farmland Trust responded, emphasizing the opportunity for agriculture to mitigate and adapt to climate change through conservation practices and indicating our willingness to work with the White House, the Congress and with farm groups to find solutions. The President’s plan includes several recent USDA climate initiatives announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.