Congress fails to pass farm bill before adjourning, clock ticking

By Holly Jessen | September 25, 2012

With Congress adjourned, fears that a 2012 farm bill wouldn’t pass before the Sept. 30 deadline have now become a reality. Although there’s no guarantee, lawmakers could still get it done after Election Day, commonly called the lame duck session, said Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition. “We remain hopeful but it’s not a good situation right now,” he added.

Passing a farm bill that robustly supports farmers and renewable energy production is a top priority, said Michael Frohlich, press secretary for Growth Energy. The organization will be working with members of Congress and their staff to get that accomplished. “Growth Energy and its membership are clearly disappointed that Congress did not pass a bill that is critical to rural America, family farmers and renewable energy production, especially in the aftermath of a historic drought,” he said.

Typically, if a full farm bill isn’t passed before the deadline, Congress has voted in a short-term extension. The last time Congress failed to pass a farm bill in a timely fashion was in the early 70s, Ritter said. Although he considers the current situation a policy error, the real impact of not passing a farm bill doesn’t occur until after the first of the year, when it would revert back to the 1949 farm bill. In the meantime, the Agriculture Energy Coalition will continue fighting for a long-term farm bill to support farmers and help them make planting season decisions.

The versions of the farm bill in the House of Representatives and Senate are extremely different. While the Senate version provides mandatory funding levels for energy title programs, the House version calls for discretionary funding for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, Rural Energy for America Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. The Agriculture Energy Coalition has repeatedly said mandatory funding levels for energy title programs is of critical importance, Ritter said.

Not having a multi-year farm bill in place puts undue burdens on rural communities, said USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilasck in a Sept. 22 statement. "In a year that has brought its share of challenges to America's farmers and ranchers, the House Republicans have added new uncertainty for rural America,” he said. “Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation, leaving thousands of farming families exposed.”

President Obama also blamed members of the House in his weekly address on Sept. 22. “Last week, without much fanfare, Members of the House of Representatives banged a gavel, turned out the lights, and rushed home, declaring their work finished for now,” he said. “If that frustrates you, it should—because their work isn’t finished.” Obama pointed to a “whole bunch of proposals” left sitting on the table, including the farm bill.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said that it was unfortunate that House leaders have refused to take up the farm bill, even after urging from Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and other farm leaders across the country. “This bill is critically important to Minnesota's farmers, businesses, and rural communities, and I'm going to keep pressing the House to pass a five-year Farm Bill when Congress returns after the November elections,” he said.