Congress Evacuates D.C. Without New Farm Bill

Congress Evacuates D.C. Without New Farm Bill

Commodity groups, Sec. Vilsack, Obama concerned about lame duck Farm Bill; Partisan politics cited for blocking a vote

Both the House and the Senate adjourned Friday without passing a Farm Bill, disappointing many who have lobbied for the cause since the Senate passed their version of the bill June 21.

Not only were industry supporters of the Farm Bill concerned, President Obama chastised Congress for departing with votes in the queue. He said Congress "dragged their feet" on the Farm Bill, and Americans should be frustrated that Congress left town without addressing key issues.

Commodity groups, Sec. Vilsack, Obama concerned about lame duck Farm Bill; Partisan politics cited for blocking a vote

"Right now, if Congress had gotten its act together, we would have a farm bill to help farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters like the drought we had this summer. And we'd have made necessary reforms to give our rural communities some long-term certainty," he said in his weekly address released Saturday.

Other outspoken supporters of the Farm Bill, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, each commented on the actions of Congress Friday. In a press statement, Vilsack blamed the situation on House Republicans.

"Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation, leaving thousands of farming families exposed … Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families."

He said without a Farm Bill, rural communities would "shoulder undue burdens."

Distrust For Some, Hope For Others In the Lame Duck

Sen. Stabenow echoed Vilsack's comments in a press call Thursday. Even prior to Congress' departure, Stabenow said the idea of passing a Farm Bill in a lame duck session wasn't her first choice, but she was dedicated to passage before 2013.

"We are going to do everything possible to get this done in the lame duck session," Stabenow said. "I really am shocked that there hasn't been action this month before the Sept. 30 deadline, but I'm absolutely committed to completing the farm bill in November or December."

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Farm groups, too, weighed in on the lack of a Farm Bill. American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman and National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson expressed concern about a Farm Bill vote in the lame duck session.

"The lame duck session will be dealing with many very significant tax and funding issues which have also been left undone by this Congress. We worry about whether the farm bill might become a pawn in that process," Johnson said in a statement Thursday. "It is crystal clear that Republican leadership is what is holding the farm bill hostage."

Johnson called the situation a "transparent political maneuver."

Wellman added that Congress must act after they return to session following the Nov. 6 election. Because both the House and the Senate decided to cancel October votes, the next session is scheduled to resume Nov. 13.

"When members of Congress return after the election in November, the excuses and the foot-dragging must stop, and the House must dedicate itself to passing a new comprehensive five-year farm bill that provides farmers with the stability, security and certainty they need while doing agriculture's part to contribute to deficit reduction," Wellman said.

Not All Groups Unhappy

While many groups were dissatisfied with Congress' inaction, Environmental Working Group welcomed the news. Scott Faber, EWG vice president of government affairs, said Speaker Boehner made a "wise decision to reject the terrible farm bill produced by the House Agriculture Committee."

Faber said the Farm Bill was less than ideal.

"The committee proposed to increase farm welfare at a time of record farm income — and to cut programs for the poor and the environment in order to lavish new subsidies on highly profitable farm businesses. What's more, the committee's bill would have weakened consumer and environmental protections," he said in a press statement.

1940s Again?

Though the Farm Bill will expire on Sept. 30 and revert to old policy, Sen. Debbie Stabenow said there won't be immediate impact, rather changes will start in January.  She said dairy producers would be the hardest hit, and the dairy sector may experience changes as early as November.

"We would begin in the new year to see … policy that would not work for today's agriculture," Stabenow said.

Despite expected changes, Stabenow was clear that there was no excuse to get the Farm Bill passed in the lame duck session.

"From my perspective, I'm not thinking about what's to be done next year. We need to get the Farm Bill done now," she said.

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