With the federal government's agriculture policies set to expire at month's end, farmers nationwide are bracing for the uncertainty of another harvest season without a permanent farm bill.
The Democratic-controlled Senate in June easily passed a multi-year measure that set policies for farmers aid that included, as is tradition, funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — better known as food stamps. But the Republican-run House balked as conservatives complained the food stamp program had become too expensive, and pushed for the eventual passage of a "clean" farm bill without funding for nutrition programs.
Now, with less than three weeks before the expiration of the current policies — a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill, which expired last year after a similar congressional impasse— the House and Senate have yet to meet to hammer out a compromise.
Senate Democrats blame House GOP leaders for the standoff, saying they have refused to come to the negotiating table.
“It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and leaving rural America and 16 million jobs hanging in uncertainty," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. "The Senate has agreed to go to conference and appointed conferees, and whenever the House decides to do the same we can move forward and finish the farm bill."
Stabenow said she doesn't support another temporary extension because "it is bad policy that yields no deficit reduction, no reform and does nothing to help American agriculture create jobs."
Meanwhile, House GOP leaders are expected to introduce in the coming days a stand-alone food stamp measure that would cut $4 billion annually from the program — about double what they proposed in a comprehensive farm bill that failed in the chamber two months ago.
The Senate bill called for about $400 million in annual food stamp cuts.
The House bill calls for tighter restrictions in the nutrition program, such as allowing states greater flexibility in requiring able-bodied parents to take part in work and job training as a condition for receiving food stamps.
"No individual who meets the income and asset guidelines of the [food stamp] program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose benefits as a result of these reforms," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a memorandum to House Republicans.
While House GOP leaders haven't said if and when they will appoint negotiators to work with the Senate on a compromise, Cantor is expected to wait until the lower chamber holds a vote on its food stamp bill.
Agriculture groups are pressing Congress for swift action on a multi-year farm bill, saying that a temporary extension would cause budgeting and planning problems for farmers.
But House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has said in recent town-hall meetings he expects Congress to approve a long-term farm by the end of the year.