The defeat of the farm bill in the U.S. House of Representatives last week was just one more complication in an already difficult year, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said Monday, as the picture for where lawmakers go with what appears to be an intractable dispute got even cloudier.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Monday an extension won’t be passed in the Senate. That puts more pressure on House Republicans to pass a bill, something they couldn’t do last week, when lawmakers surprisingly rejected a long-term extension on a 234-195 vote.
Both parties blamed the other for not getting the job done, but House Speaker John Boehner felt most of the heat. He declined to bring up the farm bill last year, so when he did this time there was widespread expectation it would pass.
In Iowa this week, farmers who already have been stymied in many cases by wetter than normal fields also faced the prospect of longer-term uncertainty over vital crop insurance, conservation and export programs.
Northey, who was in northwest Iowa on Monday, said producers are more concerned at the moment about planting conditions. Wet weather has prompted some to give up, he said. But the added prospect of last weeks’ failure of the farm bill to pass — and no clear picture where Congress goes from here — just compounds the problem. “I don’t think we even know what the next move is,” Northey said
Eldridge farmer Jerry Mohr likened it to a boat adrift. “I think it’s going in a circle most of the time,” he said.
Mohr, who is the secretary-treasurer of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said that farmers who go to their lenders and landlords may need some flexibility. “Right now, everything is up in the air,” he said.
The Senate has already passed a farm bill, though it was much different than the House proposal. The latter had $2 billion in food stamp cuts per year, five times what was in the Senate legislation.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program makes up about 80 percent of the cost of the farm bill, which actually is an extension of a variety of food and nutrition programs. Ag programs and SNAP have long been bundled into the same legislation.
Iowa’s representatives in the House all voted for the legislation last week, and afterward they lamented its defeat. On Monday, a spokesman for Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who is a freshman on the House Agriculture Committee, said it wasn’t clear what happens from here.
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“Hopefully we’ll know later this week,” said Colin Milligan.
The current farm program expires in September. It was extended last year when there was no agreement on a long-term farm bill.
In addition to reductions in the food stamp program, the House measure upped the subsidy for crop insurance, a development that drew the ire of some conservatives.
Democrats were upset with the food stamp cuts, but at least with Iowa Democrats when it came time to vote on the underlying bill, they cast their ballots in favor of the overall bill.