Break the impasse
The farm bill still appears to have a shot for this year assuming the House does its duty.
House members have received some assurances last week that the bill, which was stalled prior to the election, remains in play — perhaps even as part of the discussions over sequestration and taxes.
Democrats are calling for a five-year farm bill to help generate stability for certain sectors of the agriculture industry including dairy. Certain Republicans in the House have told members of the Agriculture Committee, however, that a one-year stopgap may be all that can be hammered out in this lame duck Congress.
That is not good enough.
On the Senate floor last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior senator from Vermont and a Middlesex resident, called for an end to the impasse and urged House members to pass the farm bill for the sake of Vermont and the nation. The Senate passed the bill 64-35.
“During this past recess, I was in just about every part of Vermont. I was stopped time and time again by Vermont farmers who asked me why Congress left town without passing a farm bill. They knew we had passed it in the Senate, but why hadn’t we finished?” Leahy said last week.
The senator said he has been frustrated by the refusal of the leadership of the House of Representatives to consider the legislation sent to them by the Senate to extend the farm bill. House lawmakers blocked consideration of the bipartisan farm bill — one that mirrors the legislation passed in their own body by the House Agriculture Committee.
The stalling tactic is putting many good Vermonters at risk. “This is dangerous for dairy farmers in Vermont and for farmers across the country,” Leahy said.
He is correct. The delay threatens rural communities. Farmers deserve the certainty that a five-year farm bill provides. The industry cannot stop to wait for politicians to quit playing games and get serious about the decisions that need to be made to maintain our fragile economy.
Farming is already uncertain enough in the face of a challenging economy and coupled with the drastic effects of global climate change. By not enacting the farm bill, lawmakers are only exacerbating farmers’ stress. These hard-working families across Vermont (and the nation) deserve better treatment from politicians.
But the threat is even broader than just affecting farms; it has the potential to affect many more people in need. As Leahy pointed out to his fellow lawmakers, the essential nutrition programs in the farm bill provide healthy food for vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant and nursing women. Vermonters, like tens of millions of people across the country, depend upon these programs where they are struggling to put enough food on their table during these very tough economic times.
The Senate farm bill was a solid, bipartisan bill. It also served as a deficit reduction bill. It has $23 billion in cost savings, as well as crucial policy reforms for dairy farmers facing the challenges of the 21st century. It maintains a safety net for millions of hungry Americans.
Now the House must act on the same points — and not impose a stopgap for a year. The election was a mandate: “Set posturing and politics aside and work out your differences. Start making decisions that Americans can see and appreciate.”
The Senate is pointing the finger at the House now, putting lawmakers on notice that they should not toy with the lives of so many struggling Americans. Recounting the process, Leahy said, the feeling was,“We can play games, we can talk, we can posture, we can sloganeer or we can sit down like grown-ups and put together a real farm bill. ... It took a nanosecond to decide we can be grown-ups and put together a real farm bill. Republicans and Democrats sat down. We wrote a deficit-reducing, meaningful farm bill, and it passed in a Senate which is often deadlocked.”
Rep. Peter Welch, who sits on the Agriculture Committee, has been urging both Republicans and Democrats to pass the bill. Vermonters are depending on Welch and his colleagues to offer the same support the Senate gave earlier this year.
“Let’s set the political gamesmanship aside, help America’s farmers, families, and rural communities that all rely on the farm bill. The people in these communities, the farmers in these communities, do not care whether there is a Democrat or Republican’s name on the bill. All they know is they want a good farm bill that allows them to stay in farming. Farming is hard enough as it is. None of us has to do the farming. We ought to stand up and help,” Leahy said.
Do the right thing.