By Senator Tim Johnson
During an election year, some in Washington prefer to quit legislating and focus solely on politics. At a time when many South Dakotans are struggling with one of the worst droughts in years, this seems foolish to me. Afraid of upsetting the extreme elements of their party, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives is refusing to bring a farm bill up for debate until after the fall elections. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said there is nothing more important to producers, farmers and ranchers than action on this bill. Without it, key disaster assistance is not accessible to folks facing a problem that is out of their control.
In June, the Senate worked together to pass a farm bill. After serious deliberation, the farm bill was brought to the floor and we considered over 70 amendments. This process produced an extremely bipartisan bill that includes important reforms like strong payment limits. We created a bill that reduces the federal deficit by $23 billion and supports millions of jobs in agriculture, our state's biggest economic driver. The Senate's version of the farm bill contains an extension of critical livestock disaster assistance programs and would ensure that this assistance would apply to losses experienced this year. Ideally, the House will simply pass the Senate bill and send it to the President.
Unfortunately, if we don't complete a full reauthorization by the end of September, producers are at risk of not having this assistance available to them. Our disaster assistance programs, which we authorized in the 2008 farm bill, expired on September 30, 2011, and so they won't be available unless the House leadership brings up the farm bill for immediate consideration. We need to move the process forward so that we can get to a conference committee and complete a full reauthorization by the end of September.
Since many in Washington frequently cite "uncertainty" as a reason our economy is not picking up as fast as we would like, you would think they would want action on the farm bill. As Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, said, the farm bill needs to be approved now to provide certainty for our farmers and ranchers.
There is no doubt that there are many disagreements on how to address the major issues that face our country. Unfortunately some of the most contentious deliberations will have to wait until after the elections. However, Congress needs to work together now to pass a farm bill. These political games from the Republican House leadership are putting South Dakota producers at risk.