July 30--Widespread drought conditions across the nation might provide the catalyst needed to finally move the stalled 2012 Farm Bill through the U.S. House of Representatives.
A version of the legislation passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 64-35. Afterward, the lower chamber's Agriculture Committee approved sending the bill to the full House.
Since then, Republican leaders have kept it from coming to a vote on the House floor. Some members of the GOP have expressed concerns about the cost of the package, especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps assistance. The 2008 Farm Bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, meaning Congress will be under pressure to finalize a new plan soon after its August recess ends, while dealing with the heated political climate of a presidential election year.
Growing concerns about the drought appear to have motivated the House to move on the measure. The Republicans are considering a one-year extension to the current bill that would include aid for drought-afflicted farmers. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she will continue to push for a full five-year Farm Bill instead of the stopgap proposal.
A vote -- at least on the one-year extension -- could possibly take place within the next few days.
"It's in a holding pattern," said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack during a recent visit to Somerset County. "We're waiting for the House Republican leadership to make the decision to put this bill on the floor, and have it debated, and voted on, so that (the House and Senate) can then begin working to iron out the differences between the two bills. The House Ag Committee did its work. The Senate Ag Committee has done its work. It's now up to the House leadership."
At the time, Vilsack felt merely extending the 2008 Farm Bill would not be enough because some disaster assistance programs have already expired, leaving certain farmers vulnerable during the drought. Crop insurance covers many growers. However, livestock producers, unable to use drought-scorched land for grazing, face skyrocketing feed costs.
"I do believe the House will address the livestock disaster program that unfortunately in the last farm bill was only authorized for four years," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Despite headway being made, local farmers can still only speculate about what will be in the final piece of legislation.
"It's too early to say what will happen," said Cambria County Farm Bureau spokesman Martin Yahner.
"A lot could still happen. There could still be amendments made."
Dairy farmers might be significantly impacted by the bill. The industry currently receives federal subsidies.
That funding approach could be replaced by an insurance program designed to help dairy farmers maintain profit margins when prices dip. The proposed changes would greatly affect Somerset County, where dairy is an important agricultural business.
"There has to be a way of evening things out (when dairy prices fall)," said Friedens'Nila Cogan, a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau State Board of Directors.
Both the Senate and House versions of the bill proposed spending a half-trillion dollars over the next five years. In comparison, the 2008 Farm Bill allocated $288 billion.
"You would see a significant number of conservatives oppose it and you may see some Democrats oppose," said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. "This thing spends a boatload more money than it did in the last Farm Bill."
Even after the full Senate and House committee voted through legislation, SNAP?remains a point of contention.
The food stamp program costs approximately $80 billion per year, which accounts for approximately 80 percent of Farm Bill spending.
The Senate bill included a
$4.5 billion cut to SNAP. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, supported an amendment to reinstate the spending, while increasing money for the fresh fruit and vegetable program.
The state's other senator, Republican Pat Toomey, opposed it.
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