farm bill

Bicameral Dissonance

Here’s a follow-up write up to the previous post. It’s from this week’s newsletter and it was written by Ben.

With the failure of the Congressional super-committee to reach any sort of consensus regarding a deficit reduction plan, I think this is a good time to update you all on the Farm Bill and my letter to Rep. Renee Elmers. Here is the response I received from her aide who works on agricultural issues…

Thank you for your email Ben, I will certainly pass your concerns along to the Congresswoman.  She is keeping vigil as next week is when we should hear how Chairman Lucas is planning on moving forward with the Farm Bill.  Thank you, Allison

Short and bittersweet! The Farm Bill draft came to a halt with the failure of the super-committee to reach a deal on the weekend before Thanksgiving and was not submitted for inclusion in the mega-deal.Come to find out, the bill was being written by the “gang of four!” The “gang of four” consists of the two chairs and two ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees. So my letter to Rep. Elmers was in vain, because even she was held at arms length during the process and was not allowed to participate as a House Ag. committee member! It seems to me our government has made a turn for the worst with the use of a draconian budget cutting exercise to avoid democratic consideration of our next farm bill and many other programs.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), there are a few Farm Bill scenarios that can play out over the next year or so. The first scenario, also the most unlikely, is that the Farm Bill is passed by the end of 2011. Not enough time is left for such a deal. The second scenario, in two variations, is that the Farm Bill is passed in 2012 by either using the unpublished Final 2011 Farm Bill as the jumping off point or the Farm Bill is drafted from scratch. Neither of these variations seems likely in an election year. The fourth scenario, which according to the NSAC, is most likely, is that Congress will take a wait and see approach. This is most likely for a host of reasons, beginning with the fact that automatic budget cuts will begin January 2013 because the failure of the supercommittee to reach a mega-deal. This further means Congress will want to wait for the dust to settle on a possible 2012 mega-deal as well as on the deficit reduction targets before drafting the Farm Bill & budget therein to avoid doubling up budget cuts. NSAC expects the current Farm Bill to be given a one year extension and the drafting to begin after the 2012 elections.

I hope you have found this as interesting as I have. The Farm Bill has such large effects on the condition of our national food system that it is critical to the future vitality of this country. How would our lives change if commodity crops were not heavily subsidized? How would our lives change if healthy food were more affordable or perceived as equitably priced? How would our lives change if children receiving school lunch were fed good, healthy and local food? These are some things Patricia and I ponder as we think about the Farm Bill and our state of agriculture.

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