Farm bill on hold

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — Congress is set to adjourn for its August recess on Aug. 2 without further action on the farm bill. Members of Congress won’t return to Washington until Sept. 9. They then will have only nine working days to negotiate a final farm bill, pass it in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and send it to the president for his signature. Such urgent and collaborative action, something rarely exhibited by this Congress, was required as the 2008 farm act expires on Sept. 30.

Alternatively, Congress may decide to extend yet again the 2008 farm bill to buy time for further action, or inaction, or allow “permanent law” and Depression-era farm programs to be resurrected, which all agreed would wreak havoc in markets and in grocery stores across the country and perhaps the world.

The House of Representatives passed a revised Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, stripped of a nutrition title, by a party-line vote on July 11. This followed the House’s failure in June to approve a farm bill that included a nutrition title that called for $20.5 billion in spending cuts for SNAP over 10 years. Those cuts were opposed by most Democrats as excessive and by some conservative Republicans as being far too small. The bill may have passed even in the face of this combined opposition if amendments offered on the floor imposing new requirements and restrictions on SNAP benefit recipients hadn’t passed.

These were viewed as punitive and over the top by some Democrats who had been willing to vote for the bill in the hope the SNAP spending cuts would be scaled back in a House-Senate conference. The amendments drove them into opposition, and the bill sank.

Since then, House Republicans seemed to dither, weighing the benefits of moving straight to conference with the Senate, which passed its farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, which included a nutrition title, in June, or holding back while a separate nutrition bill aimed at reforming and reducing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is written, introduced and passed by the House, perhaps for consideration in the farm bill conference. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, seemed intent on pursuing the latter stratagem.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio was quoted as saying he wanted the farm bill completed in September, which was viewed as a hopeful sign, but time was running incredibly short, again.
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