When will Congress approve another farm bill? Or was the 2008 Farm Bill the end of the line? Never before have political parties and the House and the Senate been so diametrically opposed over farm legislation. For the past 80 years, farm policy has brought Democrat and Republican together with the House and Senate approving new farm policy ever four (formerly) or five (lately) years. It was a time to support the nation’s largest industry, which fed the world and churned out economic value, and provided a home and lifestyle for everyone’s ancestors. Not anymore.
After the U.S. Senate approved a five-year farm bill proposal in June with 64 votes and 12 Republican Senators joining the Democratic majority, the House has approached a new farm bill with the fits and starts reminiscent of a crank tractor on farms when Depression Era farm policy was first approved. The House Ag Committee began holding hearings over a year ago in preparation for a new farm bill, but its members were the only ones apparently concerned about renewing the legislation set to expire Sept. 30.
Based on the long series of hearings last year, and a new series of hearings this year, Chairman Frank Lucas of the House Agriculture Committee assembled a proposal for his committee that was approved in mid-July. But because Lucas had been one of the four top Congressional ag leaders that proposed their own farm bill last fall, his proposal looked more like what was passed in the Senate than what the rest of the GOP-controlled House wanted. They wanted radical change, and Farm Policy usually is a function of evolution, not revolution.
One-year extension proposal
Bowing to pressure from his top House leaders, Lucas scrapped his five year plan, and agreed to move forward with a one-year extension, along with some drought relief measures for the livestock industry. To the House leadership, crop insurance is something akin to phlegm and should be discarded, or in the least watered down for the rank and file budget hawks to be able to swallow. That had not been the Lucas plan, since crop insurance was the only remaining thread in the farm bill safety net, and this was a year that everyone should have had access to it.
The one year extension of the 2008 farm bill was initially billed as a means of getting to a five-year farm bill, but the Senate Democrats were reluctant to accept that and thought their crop insurance program would provide sufficient drought relief for everyone. The Senate was likely to reject a one-year extension and reject any ad hoc drought relief the House would have sent before the August recess.