By Bill Owens
The farm bill is not just about food and nutrition. It's a jobs bill, a trade bill, a research bill, an energy bill, a rural infrastructure bill, and a conservation bill. It ensures a safe and abundant food supply, which is critical to our national security. We hear a lot of talk on both sides of the aisle about job creation and economic recovery. If we are serious about the task ahead of us, we must compromise, and our leaders must lead. The businesses and consumers who rely on the federal programs governed by the Farm Bill deserve the certainty of a five-year bill. We have to set aside our differences if we are to move the country forward. With the good work that's already done, the farm bill offers us a chance to do just that.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I was proud to work with my colleagues to produce a bipartisan five-year bill. While not perfect, it is a solid starting point for negotiations with the Senate, which completed its work in June. Unfortunately, the process came to a grinding halt after we approved our bill on a strong 35-11 vote in July. That month, I joined 78 of my colleagues to urge House leadership to bring the farm bill to the floor for an up or down vote to allow the House and Senate to negotiate a compromise bill over the August break. Our appeal went unanswered. In September, over 80 agriculture organizations and hundreds of farmers and ranchers from across the country traveled to Washington to rally in support of the farm bill. Regrettably, this plea was again ignored, and the farm bill has been put on hold until Congress returns in November.
Failure to approve a new five-year bill has serious implications for farmers who toil in a difficult and risky business. These are especially difficult times for New York farms, which face challenges ranging from natural disasters to labor shortages. These businesses, which are critical to their local economies, deserve certainty from Congress to plan for the months and years ahead. New York dairy farmers in particular need our help. Without an extension of their current safety net, the Milk Income Loss Contract program, or approval of the new insurance program included in the 2012 farm bill, dairy farmers are left without a safety net at a time when farm milk prices are not sufficient to cover the cost of production.
After many months of bipartisan work in the House and Senate, the failure of House leadership to allow a vote on the farm bill before its September 30 expiration is yet another disappointing example of politicians putting politics over people.