Congress needs to pass farm bill
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, August 26, 2012
8/26/12 at 3:09 AM
"Yes, Virginia, there is a farming industry... and right now the U.S. House of Representatives isn't doing it any favors."
- Heritage.com, Aug. 19
Not many of us take our political cues from the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council or the National Sunflower Association but they and 37 other national agricultural groups calling themselves Farm Bill Now, let it rip last week regarding this do-nothing, just-say-no, Congress.
The coalition suggested we all - from urbanites to rural folks - have a stake in pending Farm Bill legislation and that constituents should let their elected officials know that they want action from Congress.
If lawmakers cannot agree on a new Farm Bill, or even an extension of the soon-expiring 2008 Farm Bill, then this would give voters yet one more reason to thin the political herd come election day, Nov. 6.
Earlier this summer, lawmakers failed to come to an agreement on a new Farm Bill. In the past, the Farm Bill generally ended up as a bipartisan effort but in today's Congress bipartisanship is a four-letter word.
The Farm Bill legislation matters - big time. It affects an industry that provides 23 million - or 1 in 12 U.S. jobs. The bill impacts the nation's food supply, the environment, foreign trade issues, conservation. It controls major nutrition programs including food stamps and school lunches. These programs make the difference between eating and not eating for millions, including 880,000 Oklahomans last year. At least 32 million U.S. adults and 16 million children live in food-insecure households.
The bill also is about drought relief for farmers and ranchers. Twenty-five percent of the nation is drying up, including much of our own state, in arguably the worst drought in a generation. Where's the help?
Oklahoma's Rep. Frank Lucas, chairs the House Agricultural Committee. On July 11, the panel approved a new five-year Farm Bill that's much leaner than farm bills in the past. With the enormous federal deficit, all agencies must cut spending. Unfortunately, the bill (and the Senate bill as well) would cut spending on the backs - or should I say the bellies - of the poor.
Lucas' proposal would mean greater restrictions on food stamp eligibility. About $954 million in food stamp benefits were dispensed in Oklahoma last year. In one unofficial estimate, up to 30,000 households could be impacted under the current House version of the bill, according to an Aug. 22 Oklahoma Watch story by Warren Vieth. Up to 3,000 children who now are automatically eligible for free school meals could lose that benefit, Paul Shinn, a public policy analyst at Community Action Project of Tulsa County, told Vieth.
House Speaker John Boehner did not push the Farm Bill passed out of Lucas' committee so it never came before the full House. So farm bill legislation, including the Senate's version, was left on the shelf when Congress trotted off on a five-week vacation in late July. So much for that sage old Voltaire admonition: "Cultivate your garden?"
Lawmakers return Sept. 8 and won't have much time to address the issue. Can they get off the stick and compromise on the one piece of legislation upon which all Americans depend? No pressure here, folks; the bill expires Sept. 30.
Out on the campaign trail, lawmakers are getting an earful from discouraged farmers, writes the New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer:
"With a quarter of the country experiencing an exceptionally severe drought that is expected only to deepen, with the government projecting that much of the spring's record corn planting will wither away, with significant damage to soybean and wheat crops and with prices for feed at record levels, farmers and ranchers are increasingly anxious about the gridlock in Washington."
Why does this bill matter? Most of us want affordable food. We'd like it, to the extent possible, produced by U.S. farms, 98 percent of which are owned and operated by families. A good, workable bill, says Farm Bill Now, would: "help big farms and small farms, major crops and specialty crops, organic farmers and conventional farmers, cattle ranchers and cotton ginners, farmers' markets and national suppliers, and the vast range of other pursuits that make up American agriculture."
The Farm Bill also helps develop and expand trade with foreign markets.
"(Even) calling the Farm Bill the 'Farm Bill' suggests its impact is limited only to farms and to the rural areas to which they are so closely tied," Farm Bill Now says. "It's really a jobs bill. A food bill. A conservation bill. A research bill. An energy bill. A trade bill. In other words, it's a bill that affects every American."
With that in mind and in this, an election year, Congress should remember that it could reap what it sows.
Original Print Headline: Not Yet
Julie DelCour, 918-581-8379
A combine sits idle in a field on a wheat farm near Perry. Tulsa World file