The House of Representatives returns from the August District Work Period this week with several items left to accomplish during the short amount of time before the November elections.
Perhaps the most important item is the Farm Bill, which is set to expire on September 30. A workable Farm Bill is essential to give our farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to maintain our food supply and grow our agricultural economy. However, a long-term bill has yet to pass, largely because of debate over funding for nutrition programs (food stamps). To put this in perspective, over the last four years, spending on the food stamp program has more than doubled, increasing from $35 billion to $80 billion. This amount accounts for most of the nutrition title, which comprises approximately 80 percent of the cost of the Farm Bill.
While I would strongly prefer a five-year approach to give producers certainty, the House may consider a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill to prevent a lapse in farm policy when the current law expires at the end of the month. This would not be the first time a Farm Bill was delayed. The last five-year bill was signed into law nearly eight months after its expiration following a series of temporary extensions.
I recognize the slow pace and failure to come to an agreement on such an important issue is frustrating. Despite delays, it is important the process works and we develop the best possible policy. I will continue to follow the advice of producers, agriculture groups and other Nebraskans as proposals come forward for a new or extended Farm Bill.
Another issue of importance to Nebraska is expanding trade opportunities abroad. In September, the House of Representatives may also consider bipartisan legislation granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia. This legislation would have the dual benefit of reducing the barriers to trade for Nebraska goods and products, while also giving the United States leverage to enforce international standards on Russia through the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which Russia recently became a member.
Increased leverage is especially important in light of Russia's recent behavior, including its continued abuse of unscientific sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements to reduce imports of American meat and poultry. PNTR would require safeguards and oversight so Russia is held accountable if it fails to live up to internationally recognized science-based rules.
Finally, look for the House to continue our efforts to reduce spending, and to get government out of the way of private sector economic growth. Our national debt recently topped $16 trillion, and our national economic outlook remains bleak. Failure to address our spending problem now will further burden the next generation, and will compound our economic problems.
Part of the effort to reduce spending will be for Congress to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government before the current measure expires on September 30. The Senate has not passed a budget in more than three years, meaning Congress will need to come to an agreement to prevent a government shutdown. While an agreement has yet to be announced, I expect spending levels would be consistent with the reductions previously agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
There may be a lot to get done in the next several weeks, but these important issues require immediate action. After more than a month of traveling our districts and listening to constituents, I am confident Members of Congress will return to Washington ready to act.