By John Fawcett-Long, Steering Committee Member, Northwest Farm Bill Action Group (NWFBAG)
The 2008 Farm Bill expires September 30, at the end of the federal fiscal year. The US Senate passed its version earlier this year and the House’s draft has stalled after an ugly bill was passed by the House Agriculture Committee. Find NWFBAG’s analysis of this at nwfoodfight.org. It is rumored that House Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring the House Agriculture Committee’s version to the floor of the House for consideration, so he can placate Republican deficit hawks who claim that the bill is too expensive.
With the election just two months away, the pressure is on Congress to do something, as many farm programs will stop abruptly on October 1 if there is no new farm bill in place. Given this conservative Congress it is highly unlikely that we will see a progressive Farm Bill. However, after our farm tour and meeting with Representative Adam Smith, NWFBAG learned that the House’s top priority for September is to pass a Farm Bill. The increased visibility and urgency around the Farm Bill is largely due to this summer’s devastating drought. As a result of this attention, it is likely that the House would make minor tweaks to their draft, declare victory over their passage and challenge Obama to veto a Farm Bill this close to an election.
Alternately, it is still very possible that Congress will extend the present Farm Bill until after the election or into 2013 for the next Congress. Key issues which will be addressed during the House’s process include which programs will absorb most of the budget cuts, who will get credit or blame for the Farm Bill, and how will the Farm Bill address this year’s drought. In this heated election year, Congresspeople and the President are hyperaware of how decisions regarding the reauthorization of the 2012 Farm Bill will affect partisan politics.
Constituencies for the three big areas of the Farm Bill – nutrition programs like SNAP (roughly 75% of the bill), commodity subsidy programs (roughly 10%), and the conservation programs (approximately 9%) – will battle to protect their programs. The commodity subsidy programs – which we know to be very inequitable, with 75% of the payments going to just 10% of farmers – have powerful lobbyists to protect them. Meanwhile, nutrition and conservation programs are more vulnerable.
There has been little public discussion about where the White House stands regarding the Farm Bill. President Obama will likely continue his support for commodity and ethanol subsidies, which are important to his home state of Illinois. One big unknown is how much influence Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity will have.
As its August recess has just ended, the US House will soon address the Farm Bill in some form. Amending the House Agriculture Committee version will be the next access point for us to influence the bill. We need to work together to fight for a Farm Bill and a food system that is fair and sustainable for farmers, farm workers, international food systems, the environment, communities – everyone!
NWFBAG has developed a Farm Bill campaign focusing on five key priorities: support for local and regional food systems, commodity subsidy reform, support for organic and sustainable agriculture, improving access to healthy food for everyone, and increased attention to beginning farmers and ranchers.
On September 4, 2012, we met with Seattle Rep. Adam Smith to discuss these priorities and encourage him to take leadership on agricultural issues. You can see photos from our discussion, which took place at Marra Farm, on our Facebook page, here.
Get informed and involved by contacting NWFBAG at nwfoodfight.org. We look forward to working with you on this next Farm Bill.