Thursday, December 19, 2013

Just in from Capitol Hill

Farmers, ranchers reflect on legislative successes

 Washington—With a new Water Resources Development Act and farm bill expected to be enacted in early 2014, farmers and ranchers are checking two big items off their to-do for Congress.  Still, with ag labor reform and other critical issues left undone, agriculture has no intention of letting lawmakers off the hook next year. 

“As the saying goes, ‘timing is everything.’  Had we not driven as hard as we did to get WRDA and the farm bill so close to the goal line this year, we would have been racing against the clock of the mid-term elections next year,” explained Dale Moore, American Farm Bureau Federation executive director of public policy. 

The Senate took the lead with both WRDA and the farm bill, passing those bills in May and June, respectively.  The House caught up a few months later, but its late-fall passage of the measures set the conference wheels in motion a little too late to finish work before Congress’ year-end adjournment this week. 

Still, that they were done at all is a testament to farmers’ and ranchers’ tireless efforts to educate their congressional delegations and spur lawmakers to action, according to Moore.
Capitol and BTHOne of the most prominent examples of that this year was Farm Bureau’s Bring the Heat campaign, through which Farm Bureau members made sure Congress’ August recess was hardly a vacation. 

As part of this grassroots effort, farmers and ranchers spoke out at town hall meetings, had one-on-one conversations with lawmakers and their staff and made quite a few phone calls to get legislators fired up about finalizing the farm bill and moving waterways transportation legislation.
Top farm lawmakers have been conferencing on the farm bill since early November.  While there is agreement on a number of issues, like expanding crop insurance for farmers, there are also considerable differences of opinion, especially when it comes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.  The House wants to reduce SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years, while the Senate farm bill calls for a significantly less $4.5 billion in cuts. 

Farm Bureau’s two overarching goals with the Senate-House conference are ensuring that permanent law is not repealed and a complete, unified farm bill continues.  Beyond that, the organization is working to ensure the final bill provides safety net and risk management options that work for farmers in all regions, including those provisions across the many titles that would help livestock and specialty crop producers.

For most commodities, the farm bill extension expired on Sept. 30.  While the House has approved another extension through Jan. 31, 2014, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his chamber will not consider an extension before its Dec. 20 adjournment. 
Between the Senate’s WRDA and the House’s Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 there are far fewer contentious areas.  Plus, both chambers passed their bills with overwhelming bipartisan support. 

Another big issue for farmers is immigration reform legislation that meets agriculture's labor needs. 

The Senate in June passed a balanced, Farm Bureau-supported immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision.  The House, on the other hand, has gotten only as far as passing a series of immigration reform bills at the committee level. 
That hasn’t deterred farmers and ranchers, though.  Not only did they rally around the issue as part of the Bring the Heat campaign, but in October they joined hundreds of business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and conservatives in meeting with members of Congress and making a compelling case for action. 

“Considering how charged and complex the issue of immigration reform is, the chances of congressional action during an election year are slim, but that does not minimize farmers’ and ranchers’ success in coming together to work with Senate lawmakers to draft and pass a bill that would meet all of agriculture’s labor needs,” noted Moore. 

In 2014, farmers and ranchers have no intention of letting up on immigration reform or many other important issues, such as tax reform, renewable fuels, the Clean Water Act and food safety.  

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