Iowa's two U.S. Senators—Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin—are optimistic that Congress will be able to work out the differences and finally pass a farm bill yet this year. The disagreements between the House and Senate versions of the proposed legislation include a dispute over cuts in food stamp spending. There's also a limited amount of time to get differences ironed out in a conference committee and get a final bill passed and on President Obama's desk before the end of 2013.
Last week Wednesday a House and Senate conference committee met publicly for the first time. Grassley told reporters that "we'll be lucky to get a bill by Thanksgiving. That's a possibility. Probably more of a possibility is we'll get it in December, but I do think we'll get a bill passed by Congress before the end of the year."
Harkin is a member of the farm bill conference committee. He said there's time to reach a deal before the end of 2013. "I hope we can find bipartisan consensus for a new farm bill," he added. "There is no denying the differences between the two bills—particularly the House's extreme cuts to nutrition assistance."
Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Soybean Association and others urge passage of new 5-year farm bill
Lawmakers have struggled to craft a new bill to replace the 2008 measure. Republicans and Democrats have disagreed over how much money should be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, better known as food stamps, used by 48 million Americans every day. Earlier this year the Republican-led House passed a farm bill that included cuts to the SNAP program by $40 billion, almost nine times as much as the version passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The 2008 farm bill first expired September 30, 2012 and was extended this year through the end of September to provide lawmakers more time to reach a consensus. The bill expired a second time at the end of September 2013. However, the biggest impact to agriculture won't be felt until January 1, 2014 when 1938 and 1949 farm laws—which are the original enabling legislation--will automatically go into effect. These so-called "permanent laws" would force a series of changes including an increase in subsidy prices, starting with dairy payments.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
More than 250 organizations including the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Soybean Association and others sent a letter last week to the House and Senate ag committee members and congressional leaders pleading for passage of a 5-year farm bill. They don't want another one-year extension. The letter also warned against efforts to repeal the 1938 and 1949 laws, which they said are necessary to pressure Congress to pass a new farm bill. The groups also urged lawmakers to put the farm and nutrition parts of the bill together in one bill.
Iowa Governor Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds also urge action on new farm bill
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds sent a letter to farm bill conference committee leaders calling for the U.S. Congress to enact a farm bill reauthorization. The letter applauded the recent appointment of farm bill conferees, including Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Iowa Congressman Steve King. The letter reiterates the message in a previous letter from Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp earlier this year that a farm bill is important to rural America.
In the letter the Governor and Lt. Governor state: "We applaud both chambers for moving forward significant programmatic reforms that improve risk management and focus and improve the sustainability of relevant farm programs. Given the current fiscal environment, we appreciate the hard decisions before you, but believe you will meet the challenge of forging a bipartisan compromise that respects each side's principles. Your work can help improve the efficacy and efficiency of various farm bill programs. In addition, you have an opportunity to shepherd through a significant piece of legislation which would demonstrate Congress's commitment to rural America."
The letter continues: "As leaders of a key agricultural state where the fall harvest is currently underway, we urge you to pass a bipartisan, long-term farm bill out of conference that meets the needs of our agricultural producers and American consumers."