Instead, they've been pushing for a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill. Julie Grant reports about the latest politicking, and what it might mean for New York farmers.
Democratic Congressman Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, New York, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. The 2012 Farm Bill passed the committee by a bipartisan vote. However, Owens says that Republican leaders won’t allow the full House to consider it.
“I’m very disappointed. I think that this is really the worst kind of partisan politics that one could imagine,” said Owens. According to him, the problem is bad because House Republicans won’t consider the Farm Bill if they need Democratic votes to pass it. He said, “The Republicans have taken the position that they would not bring the five-year Farm Bill, which was passed out of the Ag Committee, to the floor because they couldn’t pass it with only Republican votes. So in other words, even though it came out of the Ag Committee on a bipartisan basis, they didn’t want it to pass the House on a bipartisan basis.”
Republican House Leaders have been pushing to extend the current Farm Bill for another year. Steve Ammerman is spokesperson for the New York Farm Bureau and he does not like any of the politicking. “It’s not good for our farmers,” he said.
According to Ammerman, a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill would mean less money for New York’s dairy farmers, starting as soon as September 1. He said, “How it works now is there’s something called MILC, which is the Milk Income Loss Contract, and basically it’s going to lessen the amounts of assistance that will be available to them if the milk prices drop below a certain level. So basically it will mean less income, less insurance coming their way if they should happen to need it next year.”
Overall, Ammerman says that the New York Farm Bureau has been very pleased with the proposed 2012 Farm Bill since it includes a number of things that they worked hard to get. “Mainly, a transition to a new safety net for our dairy farmers, which was important, you know the Milk Income Loss Contract Program, or MILC, was going by the wayside, and there was a new program that was going to take its place, as well as a number of programs to help our specialty crop farmers and our fruit farmers who previously were not covered,” he said. “So yeah, the Farm Bill provided a number of advantages. It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s definitely a step forward for our farmers, and now it’s looking like it potentially isn’t going to happen, or at least it will just be delayed for another year.”
Ammerman says that the delay is unfortunate. He cited the drought currently hurting farmers across the Midwest and in New York, as well as the frost that damaged crops this past spring. Many New York fruit growers also lost a significant amount of their product. Finally, a number of farmers were flooded out last September as a result of Irene.
“So they’ve just been hit hard by Mother Nature time and time again, and these programs that we hope to be in place to help them and protect them and keep them farming more than likely won’t happen, at least not for another year. So it just increases that uncertainty for our farmers. We are pushing for this farm bill to get to the House floor for a vote and hopefully get it passed,” said Amerman.
Ammerman says that the issue is not Republicans playing politics. Instead, he says that the House Agriculture Committee worked in a bipartisan fashion. Representative Owens and Representative Gibson of New York are both on the committee. Ammerman said, “They worked really well together to get that bill through the committee, and it passed by a vote of 35-11. It was a very bipartisan vote.”
There were seven Democrats and four Republicans who voted against the bill at that time. Ammerman said, “Momentum was there to have a fairly substantial amount of bipartisan support in the full House, but keep in mind, it is an election year, and there would be a battle in the House floor over the nutrition assistance programs, or food stamps if you will, that could potentially could be cut.”
Ammerman says that some Republicans say the Farm Bill doesn’t cut enough. This battle could potentially take place before the November elections. Ammerman said, “Yeah, politics is playing a role to a certain extent of keeping this from being debated and keeping it from passing which is unfortunate because our farmers depend on this. They want to know, basically, what the playing field is going to be heading into next year.”
The Republican leadership has the ability to put the bill on the House floor, says Ammerman. Both Owens and Gibson signed a letter with about 70 other lawmakers asking that the bill come up for a vote. Ammerman said, “Speaker Boehner could bring it to the floor if he wanted to, and we’re hoping he does.”
Congressman Owens says that the latest he’s heard with regards to the bill is that Republicans don’t have enough votes to pass a one-year extension of the current bill. This means that they might end up considering the 2012 Farm Bill. Owens said, “In some ways, that may be a good outcome in the short term because it may force the Republican leadership to address the five-year bill. In other words, they may be forced to bring that to a vote.”