While Minnesota's U.S. Senators and the Democrats on the House Ag Committee argued throughout the summer and fall for the need to pass a new Farm Bill,many of Bluestem's friends didn't pay much attention to their warnings.
That is, until they realized one consequence might be outrageously priced milk.
It's not them, Bluestem must admit. It's the complexity of a bill that deals with food, from farm to fork, that got mired in what Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives thought was a winning message about SNAP, or food stamps. While that narrative of "takers" didn't pan out in November, the GOP still controls the House, and the bill, approved by the Senate and the House Ag Committee, languished without coming to the floor.
The Hill's Erik Wasson reports in Deal guarantees spending showdown:
The deal only prolongs the 2012 saga over farm programs. The Senate and House Agriculture committee in 2012 both passed five-year bills to replace the 2008 farm bill. While differences remained over how southern crops were treated and how much food-stamp benefits were to be cut, a compromise long appeared at hand. The deal guarantees that those five-year bills are dead and lawmakers will have to start over again once the new Congress convenes Thursday.
The deal simply extends the 2008 farm bill, which expired Sept. 30, for one year.
Efforts to craft a new farm bill will in turn be affected by the debt-ceiling-sequester-continuing-resolution-tax-reform mess that is coming in late winter and spring.
Extending the old bill--without reforms either the Senate or House versions--is more expensive than passing those versions, but would have left less for House Republicans to bicker about.
One proposed House Republican version on the dairy extension already causes the bickerfest to go on at the expense of farmers, Bloomberg Businessweek's Derek Wallbank reports in Budget Deal Add-On Would Stop U.S. Milk Prices Doubling:
House and Senate agriculture committee leaders said they backed a different one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill. Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said he would oppose the short- term dairy-only bill if it’s brought to the floor, calling a one-month extension measure a “cruel joke” on American farmers.
The Senate "fiscal cliff" bill may be no gift for farmers in the Upper Midwest either, if David Rogers' report in Politico is to be believed.
Rogers writes in Fiscal cliff deal includes farm bill extension:
The giant New Year’s tax package rushed through the Senate Tuesday morning includes a nine-month farm bill extension that forestalls ill, even some of Bluestem's best informed friends didn't start paying attention.any immediate spike in milk prices but also represents a bitter blow for farmers who had hoped for long-sought changes in the dairy support program.
In the final hours, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) found herself pushed aside in favor of legislative language generated by the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a bit player and frequent “no” vote when the Senate adopted a more comprehensive five-year farm bill last June.
The upshot is a victory for Southern agricultural interests with the greatest stake in a costly system of direct cash payments to often already profitable producers. In the dairy arena, giant processors like Dean Foods Co. come out ahead while the outcome is a major blow for the National Milk Producers Federation, which watched with disbelief from the sidelines on New Year’s Eve.
“The deal is blatantly anti-reform,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy direct for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Many smaller, targeted programs to fund farm and food system reform and rural jobs…were left out completely.”
“The message is unmistakable - direct commodity subsidies, despite high market prices, are sacrosanct, while the rest of agriculture and the rest of rural America can simply drop dead.”
The impact in the House is still unclear.
Coming into Tuesday, Republicans were scheduled to bring up their own short-term solution to the milk crisis . . .
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, had warned the White House that it must tread carefully on the dairy and farm bills issues or risk a backlash. But at this stage, given the size of the Senate vote, milk producers risk being swept away with the tax cut surge.
Beyond dairy, the outcome is a wake-up call to the entire farm lobby of its weakened political standing in Washington and need to avoid so much infighting.
Update: The Politico story has been revised to include the reaction of Peterson to the passage of the bill, which he voted against:
“Upset is an understatement,” Peterson told POLITICO. “I’m not going to talk with those guys. I’m done with them for the next four years. They are on their own. They don’t give a sh-it. about me, anyway.”
“This is crazy, “ Peterson said of the tax package itself. “The farm bill is one thing, but there’s just no way I’m going to add $4 trillion to the deficit. … We’re not doing anything. We’re making it worse.”
While a return to the 1949 Ag title would have increased prices dairy farmers received for their milk, they worried that high milk prices would weaken demand and hurt the industry. Bluestem posted about the issue in mid-December's Nobody ever expects the Ag Act of 1949: Farm Bill politics to mug milk drinkers & producers.
In Minnesota, farm groups from across the production and political spectrum had urged the House to pass the 2012 Farm Bill (the Senate bill had already been approved) to no avail. However, a least one farm leader called for the passage of the nine-month extension so that farmers, processors and consumers would have some measure of certainty.
Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson released the following statement:
"With Congress at an impasse, a nine-month extension may be the only path to a five-year farm bill in the new Congress,” said Doug Peterson, MFU President. “An extension must be responsible and protect baseline funding and continue vital farm and consumer programs such as the Milk Income Loss Contract Program (MILC), crop insurance, child and elderly nutrition, and conservation.”
Since Minnesota has so far been spared the worst of the nation's drought, agriculture has remained a bright spot in the state's economy. In December, CBS Minnesota reported that Minnesota Agricultural Exports Hit Record $6.8B for 2011.
Photo: Farming in Minnesota.
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