Farm bill flops in U.S. House, again

Washington — Following extensive debate, a deluge of offered amendments, and finally, a full U.S. House vote that killed a farm bill, the federal conservation program situation remains much the same as it was at the end of 2012: a Senate farm bill that’s been approved, and the House without anything to show for its efforts.

The defeat leaves uncertain the future of important federal conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetland Reserve Program, and several others.

The defeat of the farm bill in the House last week was considered a surprise to most observers of Congress. And, like last year, when the bill failed to be considered on the House floor, most agreed it was the nutrition title of the bill (and Republicans’ calls to reduce funding for it) that resulted in its demise.

“We’re pretty disappointed,” Eric Lindstrom, Ducks Unlimited government affairs representative, said of the 234-195 defeat. “We really wanted to see the bill get to conference (committee).”

Meanwhile, some of the items most important to conservation groups, including conservation compliance as it relates to farm insurance subsidies, as well as a “sodsaver” provision, fell by the wayside. The compliance stipulation was included in the Senate bill, giving leaders hope that “re-coupling” compliance and crop insurance on marginal lands could be included in a final farm bill.

Now, however, it’s uncertain if a conference committee will even have the opportunity to discuss the bill, given the farm bill, which was extended by Congress last year, expires Sept. 30.

Some already are seeking a way around House approval of a bill, according to Lindstrom – perhaps consolidating the House Ag Committee-approved bill with the Senate bill. Or, attaching the Senate bill to another, more acceptable, measure.

On the other hand, House leadership hopes to bring the bill back, and eliminating objectionable aspects can lead to passage, according to Chandler Goule, vice president of government relations for the National Farmers Union. Goule said an amendment to the bill, offered by Rep. Steve Southerland II, a Florida Republican, may have been the House farm bill’s “poison pill.”

It spelled out additional employment requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, or food stamp, recipients.

On the conservation side, a number of amendments were offered. One would’ve linked conservation compliance with federal crop insurance subsidies.

Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., introduced the “Federal Conservation Compact” a few weeks ago, but at crunch time, the authors withdrew the amendment. Goule said the Fortenberry-Thompson bill was pulled because it lacked support of other House members.

There also was a push by wine producers in Thompson’s district to defeat the amendment over conservation compliance-related concerns, and the amendment’s authors “didn’t want to go into conference with a ‘no’ vote,” DU’s Lindstrom said. “So, the decision was made to withdraw the amendment.”

Lindstrom said he believes there may have been confusion among wine producers how the amendment would affect them. In most cases, it wouldn’t, he said, because “non-annual” crops, like grape fields, are exempt from wetland provisions, in most cases.

Earlier this week, an E&E Daily story indicated Thompson hadn’t been pressured by wine producers to drop the bill. But the story reported that John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, said members of his trade group had concerns about the wetlands portion of the amendment.

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., was one of those who voted against the farm bill. That was after an amendment he’d offered failed to be approved. Kind’s bill would’ve limited crop subsidies, and capped crop insurance providers’ reimbursement for administrative and operating expenses.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, and farm bill author Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican and chair of the House Ag Committee, penned a letter to fellow House members, encouraging defeat of Kind’s amendment.

Among other things, the letter said the amendment would mean “no insurance for farmers, period. For a lot of farmers and ranchers, this amendment will also mean no loans from their banker.”

Further, the letter said, “The amendment invades the privacy of farmers, ranchers, agents, and companies, forcing them to publicly disclose insurance and proprietary business information so extreme environmental groups can post them on their website.”

Officials say if the House is to reconsider a farm bill, it must do so right after the 4th of July break, in order for full passage to run its course before October.

“We want to see the bill strengthened and the House get back to work,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League.

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