Congress has tried and failed for more than a year to complete a new five-year farm bill. Now, with Congress embroiled in a fierce debate over whether to intervene in Syria, some are worried the chance to act this year on time may have already passed.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., voiced her frustration Monday during a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as farm advocate musician Neil Young, that the bill has been left waiting in the balance for far too long. In an attempt to garner more attention for the agriculture bill long-time family farm advocate Young also made the case for action.
"It's time to stop kicking the can down the road and leaving rural America and 16 million jobs hanging in uncertainty," Stabenow said, about the lack of progress on the bill. "The Senate has agreed to go to conference and appointed conferees, and whenever the House decides to do the same we can move forward and finish the farm bill."
The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, giving Congress just nine working days to pass a comprehensive bill.
Politics forced the House to drag its feet on the farm bill this summer. Internal GOP squabbles over how much money should be spent on the country's food assistance programs, forced the House to separate the agricultural portion of the bill from the nutrition title. As it stands now, the House has passed an agriculture bill, but has not voted on a bill to reform food stamps.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told his constituents during the recess that he would return to Washington and make sure a new farm bill was passed, but time is running out.
Before the recess, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced a tentative agreement with conservatives on a food assistance plan, inching the House closer to a completed bill. Under the plan, the GOP caucus proposed shaving $40 billion in food stamps, 10 times more than the spending cuts proposed in the Senate bill.
The Senate passed its full farm bill in June. Some are advocating the current farm bill simply be extended to give farmers certainty in the market, but Stabenow says that she won't support another extension.
"I do not support an extension because it is bad policy that yields no deficit reduction, no reform and does nothing to help American agriculture create jobs. It's time to do the work we were sent here to do and finally finish this Farm Bill," she said.