Abraham release signals farm bill tensions as extension talk grows
As the House went into recess Sept. 28 until after the election and the 2014 farm bill expired at midnight Sept. 30, Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., a member of the House and Senate conference committee on the farm bill, issued a news release blaming Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Democrats for the lack of agreement on a new farm bill.
“Sadly, America’s farmers have been caught up in the political games of the swamp. Each time we think we have an agreement, Sen. Stabenow and Senate Democrats move the goal posts, asking for ridiculous things like crop insurance for roof top gardens and other urban farm priorities,” Abraham said.
“They have put at risk vital agriculture programs that rural America depends on all to tow the party line and delay as much legislative business as possible in hopes they’ll retake Congress in the midterm elections. The people should not have to suffer because of Washington’s political games.”
Abraham also attached a link to a House Agriculture Committee Republican document about farm bill programs that expired or lost funding on Sunday night. The document was first released several months ago.
Asked for a reaction, a Senate Agriculture Democratic spokesperson said in an email, “From the start, the Senate has recognized the importance of passing a farm bill on time, which is why the Senate bill moved quickly and passed on a historic bipartisan vote.”
“The Senate leaders are working tirelessly on a bipartisan basis to reach a final agreement. If House Republicans are serious about getting this done, they should put politics aside and focus on working towards a compromise.”
Meanwhile, concerns that Congress will not finish the farm bill in a lame duck session appear to be growing.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said in a video released Sept. 28, “Folks are beginning to talk about extensions or whatever they want to. To me, that means they’ve given up and I hate giving up.”
“I just — I don’t like people who give up. That’s just not what we do. Where we sit right now it is across almost all of the titles, there are legitimate policy differences of opinion across them.
“It’s not just SNAP, it’s not just the farm bill, it’s not just conservation, it’s not title — it’s a variety of things that we have yet to come to grips with. It’s really frustrating because not one of them, who are actually all of them in combination, are worthy of us not getting this done. It’s just a matter of having the political will to make those hard choices.”
Conaway also blamed the Senate, but did not single out Stabenow or the Democrats.
“Right now, I don’t get the sense that getting something done has quite the sense of urgency with my Senate colleagues as it does with me.”
Last week in a speech to the United Fresh Produce Association, made before the House leadership announced the House would leave Friday until Nov. 13, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said there were lots of reasons to finish the farm bill before the midterm election.
“After the midterms, you don’t know what the political situation’s going to be. There may not be a political will to get it done,” Heitkamp said.
In a news release, Heitkamp said, “After the Senate passed a strong farm bill with historic and overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, it’s disappointing that House Republicans continue to push for partisan and regional provisions that have no chance of building the bipartisan coalition necessary to pass a final bill and give certainty to our farmers, ranchers and rural America.”
“Particularly at a time of turmoil in farm country due to the administration’s trade war, it is also disappointing that the House took a break in August and much of September — and has now adjourned until mid-November,” Heitkamp said.
“Americans expect members of Congress to get to work and do their jobs, but passing a strong farm bill is clearly not the priority it should be for House Republicans who want to keep pushing partisan provisions — including provisions that leave North Dakota farmers behind.
“We’re working to make sure many of these farm programs are able to operate for another few months, but Congress is sending the wrong message to farmers and ranchers in the middle of harvest who desperately need certainty and are instead now being told they won’t get it.
“Chairman Roberts and ranking member Stabenow are working in good faith to get a deal done quickly, and we need House Republicans to commit to coming to the table to compromise so Congress can do its job to support farmers and ranchers. I’ll continue to work toward passing a final bill as soon as possible, and House Republicans should join the Senate to put politics aside and get back to work on behalf of farm country.”
At the same conference, Robert Guenther, a United Fresh lobbyist, told attendees headed for the Capitol to urge senators and House members to finish the bill right away.
“Things happen strangely in a lame duck,” Guenther said. ❖