Farm Bill Failure: What Happened? And What's Next?
In a statement that was disappointing to many but surprising to few, House Speaker John Boehner announced late last week that Congress is not going to pass the 2012 Farm Bill before November elections. The bill, which was last passed in 2008, has lumbered its way through Congress, bogged down by last-minute amendments and countless Congressional quibbles.
Affecting not just agriculture but also nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy, the bill draws in numerous players with stakes in its outcome, inside Congress and across America.
Here at TakePart, we've kept our finger on the pulse of the bill for a long time, noting its delays, sticking points, fans, and critics. Once we heard Boehner's announcement that things will be be put on hold, we figured it made sense to give you a sense of the bill's ups and downs over the past year.
We dug into our archives to pull out some of the more significant moments in the past year of the bill's run through Congress. New to the bill, or interested in a brief historical review? Check out some of our top stories, dating back to August 2011.
Back when passing the Farm Bill still seemed like hopeful goal, we rounded up five facts that everyone—not just farmers and the foodie elite—needs to know. Ever wondered why Cheetos are cheaper than apples? Or why small farmers struggle to survive, even as hunger plagues our country? Find out with these five facts.
When a debilitating national budget stalemate brought Congress to an impasse, experts were concerned that the Farm Bill would be settled in supercommittee instead of on the Congressional floor. But the revised plan for passing the bill didn't go over so hot: More than 40,000 people made calls to Congress to decry the new process for passing the bill, and famous chef and food critic Mark Bittman criticized it openly.
After public outcry at the possibility of a secretly passed Farm Bill, the supercommittee assigned to pass it dissolved. Spirited by the announcement, TakePart revisited the Farm Bill's issues.
In April 2012, the Farm Bill lurched forward, passing in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Not everyone was pleased: Southerners complained the bill hurt their region and favored the Midwest. The bill was also criticized for ample budget cuts to food aid for needy families.
Impatient with the constant compromises being made around the goals of the Farm Bill, author and food policy pro Dan Imhoff rallied some of the biggest voices of the food movement—including Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser, and Josh Viertell—to put pressure on Congress to respond to Americans' needs. The group drafted a letter, calling the bill "seriously out of step with the nation's priorities" and urged Americans to sign it and send it to their elected officials.
One of the reasons no one's moving too quickly to pass the Farm Bill is that it's no small piece of federal budget. The bill has a multibillion-dollar price tag attached to its many components. What's all that money going toward? Check out the infographic made by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, to find out.
With billions wrapped up in the bill, plenty of stakeholders have opinions on how that money should be spent. In June of this year, opinions started multiplying, and more than 300 pet projects were tacked on to the bill.
Caught in the chaos of shrinking the bill's budget, the food stamp assistance program weathered a rough blow when the Senate voted down $4.5 billion in food assistance funding.
Finally succeeding in slashing some expensive parts of the bill—including a $5-billion-a-year program that gave money to farmers whether they planted crops or not—the Senate successfully passed the bill with a 64 to 35 vote in June of this year.
Just when hope had surfaced that the Farm Bill was making progress, Food Democracy now made known an unsettling fact: a provision of the bill proposed stripping federal courts of the right to halt the sale and planting of genetically modified crops while the crops are under review for potential hazards by a federal judge. Planting would be allowed to proceed even before a judge declared a crop safe.
As it seemed less and less likely that the Farm Bill would pass in time, experts began to speculate what might happen if it didn't. The Gazette pointed out that failure to pass the bill would throw us back to legislation from the 1930s and '40s.
After a horrible season of drought—and with food stamp numbers at an all-time high—the end of August had farmers and needy families wringing their hands. Would they get the assistance they needed? There was no way to know.
Though you can't turn on a radio, television, or computer without hearing from presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been surprisingly quiet on food and farm issues this year. Then the United Fresh Produce Association persuaded both candidates to go on record about important agenda items like food safety. Here's each candidate's stance, in his/her own words.
So what happens now? Perhaps Mary Kate Thatcher, director of congressional affairs for the American Farm Bureau, put it best when she spoke to U.S. News. The "sky does not fall," she said. "The food stamp program, crop insurance program, and most conservation programs are all extended."
Even more optimistic, the Editorial Board at the Washington Post points out that we may have reason to be thankful the bill is on hold. The bill could stand to make a lot more improvements than shaving off $23 billion over the next 10 years, they point out, especially as critical programs, like food stamps, won't be affected for now. "Congress can think some more before approving legislation whose 10-year price tag approaches $1 trillion," they write, especially one that "creates all sorts of perverse incentives for farmers."
U.S. News adds that few in agriculture will feel the impact of an unpassed bill right away, at least not until spring. One area that will feel its effects is the dairy industry, which is typically shielded from dips in the economy because the federal government buys up excess dairy commodities, preventing surpluses. For now, there is no indication on the Congressional calendar that the milk-loss provision contract will be discussed soon.
Since the Republican-controlled House is taking the blame for not passing the bill, the Des Moines Register suggests we'll be noticing a ripple effect in politics, too.
"The failure of the Republican-controlled House to pass a new farm bill is providing fresh fodder for the Democratic candidates in Iowa and other rural states seeking to woo swing votes ahead of the November election," writes the Register's Christopher Doehring.
But perhaps the most promising sign that not all is lost with the halt of the Farm Bill? The last three Farm Bills (1996, 2002, and 2007) were all finished a year later than expected.
Do you follow the Farm Bill? If so, which components are important to you? Share with us in the comments section below.