As Congress returns to Washington, D.C., they have a lot on their plate. Perhaps the most pressing issue for agriculture committee members, however, is the farm bill – legislation that has been on hold for a majority of the summer.
"It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and leaving rural America and 16 million jobs hanging in uncertainty, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Monday. " 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 House earlier this year elected to split the farm bill into two bills – one for nutrition provisions and another for farm provisions. That decision will likely remain a sticking point, and potentially a setback, for a House that is divided on how much to cut from nutrition provisions.
House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said once the nutrition portion is settled, the House can appoint conferees and go to committee to work out differences on the full bill.
"Whether that's with a $40 billion reform or the $23 billion or $24 billion from the Senate, we have to wait and see," he noted. Lucas spoke at the Second Annual Southwest Ag Issues Summit in Oklahoma City, Okla., Monday.
If the Senate and House make it to conference, likely not before early October, Lucas postulates, other issues will be budget concerns.
"A real challenge is knowing how much we have to spend and stretching it to do what we have to do to provide an effective safety net," Lucas explained. But there is one thing both sides agree on – there won't be an extension.
Lucas explained that rumors of a one or two year extension have been swirling. One benefit of that situation, some speculate, is a new President and a new crop of legislators. Lucas said he will not let that happen.
Instead, he noted, "I prefer to complete it and be done with it. But I wanted to complete a farm bill last year." Sen. Stabenow agrees.
"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.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that he also does not support an extension, noting that such an arrangement would not solve key trade and safety net concerns.