President Abraham Lincoln once observed “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
But that seems to be exactly Congress’ strategy, with both the House and Senate scheduled to recess at the end of this week without completing reauthorization of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Since the current farm bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, this would be only the second time in nearly 40 years that a farm bill will have expired without action to at least extend the previous authorization.
That is not to say that efforts have not been made to reauthorize the 2008 Farm Bill.
In particular, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) deserve great credit for not only moving a farm bill through their Committee in record time but also for having the full Senate approve the five-year reauthorization on a strong bipartisan vote in June. That reform-minded measure would have saved $23 billion over 10 years.
Likewise, the House Agriculture Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), reported out a five-year bill in July, again with strong bipartisan support. Had it progressed, that measure would have saved $33 million over 10 years.
Unfortunately, matters ground to a halt after the House Committee action, with that chamber’s leaders declining to bring the measure to the floor for a vote. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday the House would “deal with” the farm bill after November’s elections.
NAWG and many other commodity, conservation, environmental and nutrition stakeholders have used every opportunity to try to move the process forward. Just last week, NAWG and 90 other stakeholder groups held a Farm Bill Now rally in front of the Capitol and then blanketed the Hill to visit Member offices.
What now lies ahead is not entirely clear.
NAWG and other interested stakeholders will continue to press for a full five-year reauthorization of the farm bill during any lame-duck session of Congress.
Some have suggested Congress may elect to pursue a short-term extension, which is problematic on several fronts.
Even if a short-term measure could be passed – and all indications are it couldn’t at this point – it would still expire before the winter wheat crop is harvested in the spring. A longer-term extension of up to a year would push development of new farm policy into a new Congress with a much smaller amount of money available for agriculture and related programs.
It is still critical for every farmer and stakeholder to raise concerns about Congress’ inaction on the farm bill even as we stumble, in President Lincoln’s words, toward “…the responsibility of tomorrow…”.
For more on how to press for a new farm bill now, please visit www.farmbillnow.com.