Prior to leaving Washington for their five-week August recess, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted, 223-197, an Agricultural Disaster Assistance package (H.R. 6233) that directs the Secretary of Agriculture to make Livestock Indemnity Payments to eligible producers that have suffered livestock death losses and grazing losses due to drought. The Congressional Budget Office scored the disaster package at $383 million.
But prior to adopting their stand-alone disaster package, House leaders refused multiple calls from the Senate and agriculture groups to adopt the five year reauthorization of the Farm Bill that would have included disaster benefits contained in the Senate-adopted version of the Farm Bill. House Leaders held up floor consideration of the Committee-adopted Farm Bill due to sharp disputes over the level of nutrition assistance that comprise 80% of the Farm Bill’s cost. According to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House conservatives are seeking additional cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and without their support the Farm Bill cannot garner the needed 218 votes on the House floor. The Senate-adopted version of the Farm Bill cuts SNAP by $4.5 billion (over 10 years). The House version of the Farm Bill will likely cut SNAP by $14 billion.
During the August recess Speaker Boehner allowed House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) to conduct “pro-forma” talks with his U.S. Senate counter-part, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) on the Farm Bill reauthorization. According to our sources early pro forma talks were “non-measurable.”
The congressional standoff unfortunately has left livestock producers with much uncertainty about what to do both now and in the future. Should they buy feed at current drought induced (high) costs and hope that the federal government will eventually help them pay the bill? Should they sell their livestock – most likely at a loss?
Upon their return to Washington on September 10, lawmakers will face hard choices. Will the U.S. Senate attempt to adopt the House –adopted disaster assistance legislation (H.R. 6233) and incorporate a technically-corrected version of the Senate Farm Bill? Or, will lawmakers pass a separate disaster assistance bill and simply craft a short-term extension of the current Farm Bill and include those provisions in a continuing resolution funding the federal government?
In our earlier article we explained how the agriculture industry was amidst the best of economic times in recent history. But the indecisiveness in Washington over future agriculture policy is causing much uncertainty among farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses. Moreover, it seems the bi-partisan spirit, once a shining example set by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, is falling prey to the bitter divisiveness of today’s politics and unfortunately creating some of the worst times.
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