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Farm Bill Forum in Johnson County

Representatives Peterson and Loebsack
Representatives Peterson and Loebsack

On Saturday, July 27, Rep. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-07), ranking member of the house agriculture committee, held a farm bill forum at the Johnson County Extension Office. Over 40 people attended, and a lot of ground was covered related to the farm bill, how the U.S. Congress works (or doesn’t), and during an open question and answer period with discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), change in the agriculture committee makeup after the 2010 election, crop insurance, conservation, rural development, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), the renewable fuel standard and target prices for direct payments for wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton and rice. The forum was a primer for anyone who wanted to learn the recent history of the farm bill.

Rep. Loebsack said, “last year was the time to pass the farm bill.” Congress extended the 2007 farm bill for a year, and that extension expires on Sept. 30. Representatives of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Corn Growers Association present at the forum indicated they did not want another extension. One audience member pointed to a $50,000 direct payment he would receive this year he didn’t need and didn’t want. Loebsack attributed the situation to the failure of congress to pass a new farm bill last year.

Rep. Peterson said the agriculture committee members had reached a bipartisan agreement last year, but the problem was (and remains) the Republican leadership. He was more specific, saying “it wasn’t Speaker Boehner… he never got in the way.” He added, Eric Cantor is the problem, “he’s the guy who screwed this thing up in the house.”

Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, entreated the congressmen to take the political spin out of SNAP because it was destructive to families who depend upon the $1.30 per person per meal the program provides. A food pantry volunteer added, “it’s not just SNAP.” The farm bill impacts food pantries, meals on wheels and other nutrition programs people rely upon. Rep. Peterson was direct, “there will be more SNAP cuts (in order to pass a farm bill).”

The clock is ticking on getting a farm bill passed by Oct. 1. After this week, congress begins the August recess, reconvening on Sept. 8 or 9. The U.S. Senate has formally requested a conference committee, but house members have not been appointed. According to Peterson, they may not be until after the recess. There is time, but not any extra.

The framework for the farm bill has been set by the U.S. Senate version, for which the entire Iowa delegation voted. Passing the farm bill comes down to the U.S. Congress doing their work, something at which they have been less than effective. Also something could go wrong between now and Oct. 1 to stop the farm bill from moving, according to Peterson.

After the farm bill failed last year, Peterson said, speaking of the Republican house majority, “you guys have finally made me a partisan.” If SNAP is cut completely by the conference committee and replaced with block grants, as some conservatives want, the Democratic house delegation is expected to walk away, and the farm bill would expire. Well funded groups like the Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth, the Wall Street Journal and others have lobbied hard to cut SNAP, get rid of conservation and rural development programs, and crop insurance.

If readers are interested in more information about any of these topics, please post a comment below, and I’ll reply with any relevant information from the forum.