Farm Bill Update

Mark Keating's picture

Basketball legend John Wooden cautioned not to confuse activity for achievement and his advice certainly applies to the “Farm Bill” passed last Thursday by the House of Representatives.  I use quotes here because the House bill contained only the agricultural provisions of the Farm Bill while voiding its single largest section, the nutrition programs.  Not simply ignoring, but voiding; should this House bill become law, the entire slate of USDA nutrition assistance programs would disappear.

While that outcome might please some members of the House, it’s not going to happen and that’s where the distinction between activity and achievement comes into play. The House leadership was badly damaged by the defeat of its first attempt to pass a Farm Bill back in June. That defeat highlighted underlying concerns about the House leadership’s competency and even called into question its future viability. 

That challenge had to be answered, and leadership responded by forcing through last week’s bill, which attracted zero Democratic votes, was met with scorn by the Senate and elicited the promise of a Presidential veto.  It was all worth it for the House leadership to prove it could pass legislation, so I guess they did accomplish something - though not for agriculture.

Now that the House and Senate have both passed Farm Bills, is there a possibility that a conference committee could still salvage an acceptable compromise?  That is not out of the question, though at some point the House would have to accept restoration of the nutrition support programs. They could do so independently, and send that measure to conference, or wait and vote on a conference agreement based on the provisions already approved by the Senate. However, having caved completely last week to opponents of the nutrition programs, it’s hard to see how House leadership could meaningfully rally support for those programs in the future.

The current extension of the Farm Bill including its disastrous cuts to organic, sustainable and beginning farmer programs ends on September 30. No one in our community wants to see it extended further, but that is a strong possibility given the deep divisions getting in the way of replacing it.

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