Critical farm bill stalled in house

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2012 federal farm bill, which determines five years of agriculture and nutrition policy, could be postponed for another year, according to U.S. House of Representatives majority leaders.
That prospect left Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., concerned by the prospect of a one-year extension of current agricultural policies and its potential effects on Vermont farmers.
“This would be very harmful to Vermont dairy farmers and others around the county,” said Welch on Tuesday.
He said it’s very likely that the one-year extension would include no new programs, notably the dairy price stabilization measures proposed in the versions of the farm bill passed by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee. Vermont dairy farmers have hailed those measures as their best hope for a less volatile milk pricing system.
And although existing policies would continue with the renewal of the 2008 farm bill for another year, Welch said funding would drop significantly for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), a crop insurance program that aims to protect dairy farmers from sudden drops in price. A 2008 program that takes into account the cost of feed along with the price of milk would also likely fall by the wayside.
The movement to postpone floor debate on the bill comes as the nation is gearing up for the November election, which could ring in shifts in the balance of power in both the House and Senate.
Welch said House majority leaders are unwilling to face what will undoubtedly be a contentious debate. Nutrition spending makes up the majority of the budget set by the farm bill, and during the current session liberals have made repeated attempts to protect nutrition spending while conservatives have aimed to reduce it.
“The leadership has indicated that it doesn’t want to bring the farm bill to the house floor,” said Welch. “That’s a terrible decision.”
While the farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee July 12 with a vote of 35-11 and strong bipartisan support, the bill has been waiting in the wings ever since.
As the House prepares for its five-week August recess, Republican House leaders John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said rather than bring up the new bill for a vote they will instead introduce a bill to extend the existing legislation to the floor sometime this week.
Still, Welch said bipartisan support for bringing the new bill to the floor is growing as the Sept. 30 expiration of farm bill programs draws near — Welch and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., gathered 79 colleagues — 45 Republican, 34 Democrat — to urge the House leaders to bring the bill to the floor.
“America needs a farm bill, and Congress needs to do its job,” said Welch.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected]

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