Some farmers might be applauding the U.S. House of Representatives today after their late afternoon passage of a farm program only farm bill yesterday. Here are a few reasons why you might reconsider your first reaction.
1. Passing a farm only farm bill could set a precedent for future farm bills. In fact, such a drastic change in 2013 from previous farm bill negotiations might signal the end of farm bills. Period.
Over the years, most of the farm groups have talked about the large dollar amount designated for food stamps within the farm bill. That was an awareness building measure that the entire cost of the bill was not farm program subsidies, not an effort to separate the two because we felt they were unrelated.
In five years, when likely fewer than 60 members of the House of Representatives represent rural areas or farmers, will we be able to pass a farm only farm bill? We have exactly 60 members representing ag heavy districts right now and a farm only bill passed yesterday with eight votes to spare. That’s cutting it pretty close.
2. The newly passed farm only farm bill replaces the permanent law from 1938 and 1949. The action we saw this year and the effort we saw trying to work around current Congressional dynamics to pass something was largely an effort to keep from returning to 1940’s law. Now that the threat of archaic law is eliminated, will Congress work as hard to pass a farm bill in five years?
3. The threat of no more farm bills also equals the end of conservation programs, market access programs, foreign market development, and many others. Crop insurance will likely be preserved, but there are a host of other pieces to a farm bill that you and your fellow farmers use every day. Are you ready for the end of farm programs as you know them?
4. The splitting of farm programs and food stamps is symbolic of a much larger shift in our nation. Farmers and rural dwellers are a very small portion of the population and most Congressmen represent urban areas. Why would an elected official worry about the needs of rural America when he/she doesn’t need your vote to get reelected? Read more about this phenomenon here.
Some farmers are happy about the split as they have never understood why food stamps were included in a farm bill. Some are excited at the idea of a final farm bill heading to conference committee with the Senate and some stability for their farm next year.
But don’t be so encouraged at your short term gain that you forget to consider the long term damage that might have been done during the farm bill vote yesterday. As that old physics principle states, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
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