For more than a year I have worked with agriculture groups, producers across Nebraska and my colleagues in Congress to pass a responsible long-term Farm Bill. Like many others, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure to come to an agreement, and I believe both parties bear some responsibility for not getting a bill passed.
This is not the first time the Farm Bill has expired without a new policy in place. The previous five-year Farm Bill expired on September 30, 2007, was extended on December 26, 2007, and a new bill was signed into law after a series of short-term extensions. While not ideal, it was not disastrous, and our producers were able to rise above the politics.
Historically, Farm Bill reauthorizations are brought to the floor with near unanimous and bipartisan support from Agriculture Committee members. This Farm Bill before the House passed Committee with a division of support. No challenges in the bill are insurmountable, but there cannot be progress without a willingness to consider meaningful reform. One such concern is the bill's failure to significantly reform the food stamp program, which has increased by 105 percent since we last considered a Farm Bill. I will not allow "perfect to be the enemy of good," but it's reasonable to seek modest reforms of a nearly trillion-dollar program. In fact, the American people are demanding reforms of this nature.
Such reform is not impossible. The House-passed budget saved billions by suspending automatic qualification for food stamps through other government assistance programs and by providing states more flexibility to administer the program. We are not talking about changing the qualifications for food stamps or denying assistance to those in need, but applying meaningful reform which would likely earn enough support to move the bill through the House.
As it is, the Farm Bill contains a variety of titles and provisions designed and written to attract broad regional support from around the country. If full reauthorization of a Farm Bill were to fail on the floor of the House, producers would face far more uncertainty. I believe we are close to having the votes for a bill in the House which can get us to a Conference Committee where compromise appropriately takes place.
I would have strongly preferred to pass a bill before September 30th. When the current Farm Bill expires however, there remains time to prevent a major lapse in policy and come to an agreement. That's because most of the programs authorized by the Farm Bill have been funded through March of next year by the House-passed Continuing Resolution, including crop insurance. In fact, commodity programs will not be immediately impacted because the 2008 Farm Bill will cover the 2012 harvest.
Unlike 2007, the country is currently in the midst of a heated election, and unfortunately politics has hijacked the Farm Bill Debate. It is my sincere desire for Congress to return post-election and work to pass a bill based on good policy rather than political gamesmanship.
Passing a Farm Bill should be among our top priorities. Agriculture groups, rural communities, producers and elected officials should be united in our efforts to pass responsible long-term farm policy. We all want to get a bill passed; patience and good policy will ultimately be in the best interests of producers and all Nebraskans.