The House Agriculture Committee hosted the first of four hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill in Saranac Lake last month. The committee had planned to reduce federal spending on agriculture by about $23 billion from the current draft.
But since then, the House passed a budget plan put forth by Congressman Paul Ryan that aims to reduce farm spending by between $30 billion and $33 billion. As Chris Morris reports, that discrepancy could keep the House from reauthorizing the Farm Bill this year.
Congressman Bill Owens says the Agriculture Committee reached a bipartisan agreement on the $23 billion in cuts.
The Democrat from Plattsburgh says the committee’s chairman, Republican Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, doesn’t think he’ll be able to bring the Farm Bill to the floor because he’ll be blocked by the Ryan budget.
“This is really, if you will, an intra-Republican problem,” Owens said.
Owens says as a minority member of the committee, there’s not much he can do to affect the situation. He says under House rules, Lucas can’t advance the Farm Bill past the Budget Committee because that committee has already approved greater cuts to farm programs.
Owens says the original cuts proposed by the Agriculture Committee should be honored. “That group of people knows the issues in the farming community, and as we know from the Ag Committee hearing that we had, we need to make sure we’re supporting our ability to grow food and to produce beef and dairy in this country for our national security,” he said. “I think Mr. Ryan is playing a dangerous game by trying to cut (agriculture) to the extent that he is.”
At the Farm Bill hearing in March, several speakers, including Congressman Chris Gibson, stressed the importance of putting forth a strong Farm Bill. “No farms, no food,” Gibson said at the hearing. “We need to get this right, or we’re going to end up guarding food overseas.”
Owens says the Ryan cuts would have a negative impact, but he also says the Ryan budget fails to specify which programs would be cut. “If you cut too much in the ag budget, you may be importing food, which obviously puts people out of work in this country,” he said. “But it also puts us more at risk in terms of being able to bring in food to feed ourselves.”
The good news for farmers, Owens says, is that the Ryan budget will likely get voted down in the Senate.
If the Farm Bill fails to reach the floor for a vote this year, Owens says Congress would be forced to pass stop-gap measures to fund key agricultural programs.
Those include the Milk Income Loss Contract, which pays dairy farmers when the price of milk falls dramatically or unexpectedly, and federal crop insurance, which provides aid to farmers in the wake of natural disasters.
Owens was in Franklin County last week and spoke to farmers about the possible delay in reauthorizing the Farm Bill. “They were very disappointed when I told them what was going on,” he said. “They viewed it as more partisan politics: not getting to the root of the problem, not addressing the problem, and people were as frustrated as I am.”
Gibson could not be reached by phone for this story. He said in an emailed statement that he recognizes the “difficulties and challenges in getting a farm bill done this year.” He says farms are small businesses that need a “degree of certainty” when it comes to federal safety net programs.
Additional hearings on the Farm Bill have been held in Arkansas and Illinois. A final hearing is scheduled for April 20 in Kansas.