Total Pageviews

Monday, July 30, 2012

Republican Leaders in Tricky Spot on Farm Bill and Drought Aid


The House speaker, John A. Boehner, and other Republican leaders have found themselves caught in a squeeze between their party's most ardent conservatives and drought-ridden farmers, with just days left before a monthlong August recess.

The Senate has already passed a major overhaul of the nation's farm programs, but a parallel effort in the House has been stymied, in large part by conservatives who have pressed for deep cuts to the expanded food stamp program. Without movement, a bipartisan drought relief package has had no vehicle to get out of Congress on.

Last week, House Republican leaders indicated they would back a one-year extension of existing farm programs, crop insurance and subsidies, with a drought package attached. But on Monday, it became clear that will be no easy task this week.

In the morning, the American Farmland Trust, an environmentally minded agriculture group, came out against the plan.

“Our goal remains clear: pass a fair and comprehensive five-year farm bill this year,” said Jon Scholl, the group's president. “We will vigorously oppose an extension of the current act that does not appropriately set the stage for final action on a new, comprehensive, multiyear farm bill to be enacted yet this year. We also oppose the disproportionate cuts to conservation programs as a means of funding disaster assistance.”

That gave cover to Democrats, who had already said they do not want to give Republicans help dealing with their right flank.

Then the American Farm Bureau Federation, a far larger group with strong presence in Republican states and districts, piled on.

“A one-year extension offers our farm and ranch families nothing in the way of long-term policy certainty,” said the group's president, Bob Stallman. “Farmers and ranchers always face decisions that carry very serious financial ramificati ons, such as planting a crop, buying land or building a herd, and we need clear and confident signals from our lawmakers.”

On Monday afternoon, the Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative small-government political action committee, hit from the other side.

“House Republican leadership should promise fiscal conservatives that they will not use a short-term extension as a vehicle to get to conference on a massive new farm bill,” said the group's president, Chris Chocola. “Last month, leadership pulled a similar trick with the highway bill. Republicans should be fighting to cut spending and limit government, not compromising with Democrats to spend billions of dollars on farm subsidies and food stamps.”