The North Bend Eagle


 

One step close to a new farm bill

U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns
Released 10/7/13

Despite a government shutdown and ongoing partisan gridlock, a glimmer of good news emerged in Washington for America’s farmers and ranchers last week. The Senate appointed members to work with the House of Representatives in sorting out differences in the two chambers’ versions of legislation to update farm policy. As you know, the current farm bill expired at the first of the month. While the majority of farmers and consumers will not feel an immediate impact, time is running short.

The House and Senate both passed different farm bills earlier this year, and those differences have to be worked out before anything is signed into law by the President. The first step in working through our differences is coming together in a conference committee—something that hasn’t been done on the farm bill since 2007, when a long-term bill was last passed. Some of these differences are significant, but they are certainly solvable, and I am optimistic that an agreement can be reached for our ag producers.

An efficient, market-oriented farm bill should be the goal.

As Congress works to sort out our federal budget, it is clear that fiscal responsibility must be at the heart of any legislation before Congress and the programs they affect. Just as farmers and ranchers are taking on the task of feeding a growing population with fewer resources, lawmakers must find a way to serve the American people in the face of a sluggish economy. The House bill saves $52 billion, and the Senate bill saves $18 billion. Thus, any final bill ought to save taxpayer dollars and contribute to deficit reduction. An efficient, market-oriented farm bill should be the goal.

One of the key differences that must be worked out in committee includes funding levels for some of the bill’s nutrition programs. We must carefully work to ensure limited resources are targeted to help those truly in need. During the Senate’s debate on its farm bill, I proposed an amendment to prevent valuable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars from going to those who don’t need the assistance. Currently, a loophole exists that allows states to automatically enroll folks in SNAP based on their eligibility for other state or federal programs even though those programs use different eligibility criteria. As a result, SNAP benefits may be available to individuals who don’t actually qualify to receive them, diverting attention from families who really do. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that only providing SNAP benefits to those families who qualify under the program’s rules would save $11.6 billion over the next ten years, freeing up needed resources.

My amendment didn’t pass, but a similar provision was included in the House-passed nutrition bill. I believe it is something worthy of consideration as the House and Senate work to square their separate versions of the farm bill’s nutrition titles.

Without passage of a new farm bill, no reforms will be made to the SNAP program and the return of outdated 1949 farm policy would cause a spike in prices for essential products such as milk at the start of next year and other crops within subsequent months. The full range of fallout is something I am confident lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to avoid. So it is important that Congress takes this opportunity to work together for a fiscally responsible, market-based farm bill as soon as possible.

I’m confident that we will be able to proceed with the necessary work to bring these two proposals together. I will continue to push for progress on a new long-term farm bill before the end of the year. I truly believe it is in the best interest of ag producers and consumers, and I look forward to Congressional action on this needed update to our ag policy.

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