Can farm bill break the pattern of paralysis in Congress?
Published: June 15, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Both houses of Congress have been working on a new farm bill, as the current farm bill expires Sept. 30. That would seem to leave a lot of time for the bill to get through Congress, even one as polarized as this one is. But not so fast. The number of working days Congress has this year will be reduced sharply because of the time needed to campaign in a presidential election year. That works not only against the bill, but against the elected officials who -- in a time before attack ads, anyway -- liked to trumpet their legislative achievements. And the look of the final farm bill is still up for grabs. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., had worked out the basics of a new farm bill late last year as part of the "supercommittee" deficit reduction talks. But when the supercommittee failed to come up with a plan, the farm bill had to be shelved. But Stabenow and Roberts came back with a bill that cuts federal outlays by more than $23 billion over the next 10 years, including $4 billion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly known as food stamps -- but even more cuts in direct payments to farmers. In their place would be a crop insurance program that would pay farmers when crops fail or when prices sag. The House Agriculture Committee has developed its own farm bill, but the full House hasn't yet put it on its docket, perhaps waiting to see if the Senate can pass a version that would go to a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out the final details of the package. Work on the measure has been slow, admitted Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, of which the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is a member. "I think it's precarious right now but still possible," Hoefner said. "It's McConnell's call," he added, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "but he hasn't been too forthcoming about how he wants to call it." Hoefner blames the current Senate slowdown on GOP-offered amendments "on everything from Pakistan to state taxes. ... You name it, they've got an amendment for it."
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