Editorial: US House delays on vital farm bill

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Political posturing about who or what is delaying action on a much-needed farm bill came into sharper focus when the Republican speaker of the U.S. House refused to appoint members to a conference committee. John Boehner had every chance to do what the Senate wisely did, but he declined. The House shut down for the August vacation, and any hope of farm bill conference committee negotiations evaporated.

So, by any reasonable assessment, it indeed is the intransigence of House Republicans that is stalling progress on a new farm bill. By contrast, the Senate named conferees, including Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Max Baucus, D-Mont. They were ready to go to work on farm bill negotiations during the congressional break, but they can’t because House leadership declined to participate. Had Boehner done the right thing, it’s almost certain Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., would have been named to the panel, and possibly Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. Peterson is the leading farm policy expert in Congress. By virtue of his years of public service in his state, Cramer has a deep understanding of production agriculture.

The conference committee process is essential for the farm bill. There are big differences among congressmen and senators on major provisions of the legislation. Disagreement over how much to cut the food stamp program, for example, requires compromise. Concern about certain farm support payments divides Congress, also. But no progress can be made without House and Senate conferees meeting to find paths to compromise. Of course, that can’t happen without participation by House conferees.

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Because House Republicans went home without acting on a farm bill conference committee, it looks like there will be no farm bill this year. That means producers, ag lenders, agri-business people and rural economies will have to deal with uncertainty. Will the current farm bill be extended? Will farm supports revert to the 1949 base farm bill, and result in guaranteed retail chaos? What’s the future of crop insurance? The sugar title? The school lunch program?

Make no mistake about it. House Republicans are to blame for the farm bill stall. That’s not a political conclusion. It’s a statement of fact.

— Fargo Forum, Aug. 10