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October 02, 2012
The House nonvote on farm bill

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) angered farming organizations by deciding against bringing a 5-year farm bill to a vote before Congress’s election recess.  Boehner was reportedly concerned that a vote on the bill would reveal differences in the Republican ranks between lawmakers who believe the bill is needed to give farmers business certainty and those who oppose the $900 billion price tag.  Boehner said the lame duck Congress will deal with the bill after the November elections.  Absent approval, the 2008 farm bill expired September 30, 2012, although many of its provisions, including payments of crop insurance, will continue at least until the end of the year.

Senate passage

The Senate version of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Actof 2012 was approved by a vote of 64 to 35 in June.  That bill sought to cut spending by ending direct payment farm subsidies, meaning farmers would no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, by not paying for acres that are not actually planted, and by not paying farmers when they are already doing well.  Other cost-cutting measures included addressing fraud and abuse in food assistance and eliminating over 100 programs and authorizations under the agriculture committees' jurisdiction.

The Senate bill included multiple environmental and conservation provisions, including extending the conservation reserve program and the farmable wetlands program, revising the conservation stewardship program, and extending the environmental quality incentives program.  The bill would also establish the agricultural conservation easement program for the conservation of eligible land and natural resources through easements or other interests in land; this provision would combine the purposes and coordinate the functions of the wetlands reserve program, the grassland reserve program, and the farmland protection program.

Republicans voice anger

Many Republican representatives pressured Boehner and other House leaders to bring the 2012 bill to a vote.  One of the most vocal was Rick Berg (R-ND).  “House leadership has handled this entire Farm Bill situation poorly since it should have happened months ago,” said Berg in a statement.

Before Boehner’s September 20 announcement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added his voice to the many calling for reauthorization.  “A comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would ensure a strong safety net for our producers,” said Vilsack.  “This includes disaster assistance for those who have been impacted by the drought–especially by providing help for livestock and specialty crop producers and providing a new support system for dairy producers.  And it would give us tools to continue expanding the production of advanced biofuels and bio-based manufacturing, creating more good jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.”

Many lawmakers and industry representatives have noted that absent the kind of government backing provided by the farm bill, farmers lose considerable leverage when applying for bank loans.

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