House adjourns without taking up Farm Bill
Written byAMANDA PETERKA, E&E
The House adjourned Friday until after the elections without taking up either the full farm bill or any short-term extensions, House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday.
The Ohio Republican thus confirmed what many had been saying for weeks: that House leaders would delay work on the bill because of divisions among Republicans and Democrats over proposed cuts to the food stamp program. Until this week, though, it was unclear whether leaders would yet attempt to bring a short-term extension to the floor.
Boehner settled the matter yesterday. "We will deal with the farm bill after the elections," he said.
"The current situation that we face is: We've got people who believe there's not enough reform in the farm bill that came out of committee," Boehner said. "We've got others that believe there's too much reform in the bill that came out of the committee, in our opinion, leaving less than 218 votes to pass either an extension or the entire farm bill."
Without an extension, the 2008 farm bill will expire on Sept. 30. While the expiration will not immediately affect the bill's large commodity subsidy and nutrition programs, several conservation and energy programs will be unable to enroll new participants come Oct. 1 (E&E Daily, Sept. 19).
House Democratic leaders yesterday sent a letter to Boehner urging him to keep the House in session until work on the farm bill and other big pieces of legislation is complete. In a press conference yesterday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the lack of a passage of the bill a "failure" and a "shocking" turn of events.
"Not to have a farm bill is an irresponsible approach," the California Democrat said.
The Senate passed its version of the bill in June, legislation that would cut $23 billion in direct spending by eliminating direct farmer payments, consolidating conservation programs and getting rid of the authority for more than 100 programs. The bill would still spend about $970 billion over the next decade.
The House Agriculture Committee approved its $958 billion bill in July, but the measure stalled on the floor.
While the House bill is similar to the Senate's, it contains some significant policy differences in the commodity subsidies title and cuts $16 billion from the food stamp program, compared to the $4 billion cut contained in the Senate bill.
Several House members on both sides of the aisle -- many agricultural lawmakers in the midst of re-election campaigns -- in recent days made last-minute attempts to bring the bill to a floor vote.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) late last week began a discharge petition that would have forced a vote on the floor if 218 members signed it; the petition received 59 signatures.
Parting ways with their leaders, 11 Republicans signed onto the measure: Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Chris Gibson of New York, Jean Schmidt of Ohio, Timothy Johnson of Illinois, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Denny Rehberg of Montana, Rick Berg of North Dakota, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Tom Latham of Iowa.
Latham, who signed Wednesday, was the last Republican to add his name. Two other Republicans -- Reps. Scott Tipton of Colorado and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina -- originally signed the petition but then withdrew their names.
Several Republican members have also called for action on the bill.
"House Leadership has handled this entire Farm Bill situation poorly since it should have happened months ago," Berg said in a statement yesterday. "On the heels of this announcement, our bipartisan coalition will continue to keep up the pressure to demand that Leadership do the right thing and bring the Farm Bill to the floor -- we won't stop until this happens."
Pitch for action on Senate bill
Yesterday, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) -- who is facing a tough re-election campaign against incumbent Latham -- also made a last-minute pitch to the House Rules Committee to bring up the Senate-passed version of the farm bill to a House vote before lawmakers head home for the elections.
"I thought, 'Well, maybe there's a chance before this committee," Boswell told committee members. "If you'll take this opportunity to respond to what we're hearing across the country from everybody, seems to me, to put the Senate bill out in front of us and let's discuss it and debate it and amend it ... and get the thing to conference and let's see what we can do."
It is unclear what will happen when the House reconvenes on Nov. 13. Lawmakers are offering a range of predictions on whether the bill could be passed by the end of the current Congress.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a former secretary of Agriculture, on Wednesday said he remained confident the full bill would be passed by the end of the year.
Pelosi offered a dimmer prospect.
"When [Boehner] says after the election, I think that's exactly right. The question is: What year?" Pelosi said. "Is there going to be a farm bill? Because there's great disappointment in farm country."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, a senior Republican on the Agriculture Committee who voted against the farm bill in markup, said Wednesday that the bill was too flawed in the first place and said he would rather Congress start all over again in the new year.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that tracks farm subsidies, has also opposed the bill and yesterday applauded Boehner for not bringing it to the floor.
"The committee proposed to increase farm welfare at a time of record farm income -- and to cut programs for the poor and the environment in order to lavish new subsidies on highly profitable farm businesses," said Scott Faber, EWG's vice president of government affairs. "What's more, the committee's bill would have weakened consumer and environmental protections."
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) yesterday said she was "absolutely committed" to continuing work on the bill. She argued against doing a short-term extension or a comprehensive disaster assistance bill in place of the full farm bill and warned that bringing the farm bill into the new year would result in a lower beginning baseline.
"We are going to do everything possible to get this done in the lame-duck session," Stabenow said.