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Pelosi calls for House farm bill vote
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Thursday joined a growing chorus of national leaders urging the leadership of the House to vote on its version of a farm bill before the August recess.
“I join Democrats and Republicans and dozens of groups – representing farmers, ranchers, the faith community, nutrition advocates, scientists, environmental and conservation organizations – calling for swift action on the Farm Bill. Inaction by the Republican congressional leadership means that disaster assistance will expire at the very time when we are experiencing the worst drought in 50 years; rural America is already facing the termination of livestock and crop assistance in the midst of this crisis. Inaction means economic, nutritional and employment crisis throughout our rural communities," Pelosi said in a statement.
She also responded to 46 farm groups calling for a speedy vote. In a letter to American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Pelosi said she doesn't support the House bill's cuts to food stamp spending, "but these differences are all the more reason to bring the bill up for a vote under an open rule that provides all Members with an opportunity to debate the issues, offer amendments, and most importantly--move to a conference with the Senate."
There's been speculation in Washington that the bill might be difficult to pass in the House if Pelosi's fellow Democrats won't vote for it due to food stamp cuts and the new Tea Party members of the Republican Caucus don't support it, either, because they want deeper cuts than some $16 billion approved last week by the House Agriculture Committee.
Pelosi's statement follows Wednesday's White House press conference by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who called for quick action on a new farm bill.
"Our tools are somewhat limited and so we’re going to need to work with Congress to provide opportunities either through the passage of the Food, Farm and Jobs bill [the Senate's name for the 2012 farm bill] or through additional disaster programs, or perhaps additional flexibility in the Commodity Credit Corporation to provide help and assistance to our farmers," Vilsack told reporters.
The 2012 farm bill contains some disaster assistance for livestock producers, but it doesn't extend the 2008 farm bill's permanent disaster program for commodity crops, called SURE (Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments). Due to lack of funding in the original 2008 law, SURE expired with the 2011 crops. A group of Democratic senators from the northern plains states have introduced a bill that would renew SURE and other livestock disaster programs for 2012.
Earlier this week, the National Farmers Union board of directors endorsed the bill and called for action in the House.
“The U.S. House must act now to pass the farm bill before current legislation expires in about two months,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “It is critical that Congress supports the legislation sponsored by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Tim Johnson, D-S.D. and Jon Tester, D-Mont., that would extend the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Forage Program (LFP), and Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) for one year. More than 1,000 counties in 26 states have declared disasters due to the drought and wildfire, and farmers currently do not have adequate assistance for their 2011 and 2012 weather-related crop losses.”
Neither the House ag committee's 2012 farm bill nor the farm bill passed by the Senate has the SURE program. But NFU president Roger Johnson told Agriculture.com in an interview this week that the Baucus-Conrad bill could be added to the farm bill if the House passes legislation and both farm bills go to a conference committee, where a final bill would be hammered out by leaders of the agriculture committees.
"There is and has been serious discussion of a retroactive extension of the current program at the conference committee," Johnson told Agriculture.com. It would not make SURE part of the new farm bill going forward, but would apply to this year.
So far, the disaster bill has no public support from Republican members of the Senate and some, including ag committee member Mike Johanns of Nebraska, have been critical of a program that Johanns says has little farmer support in his state.
Some Democrats also give it only lukewarm support.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Thursday that he supported SURE when it was added to the 2008 farm bill under his leadership.
"I'd be in favor of extending it," Harkin told Agriculture.com. "I'm a little nervous about where they're going to try to find the money for the offset."
The cost of the program would likely have to be offset with cuts from other agricultural programs and "we shouldn't be taking it out of agriculture for what is a national disaster," he said.