Victor Post
  • EDITORIAL: Farm bill failure hurts our region

  • One of the first orders of business when the U.S. Congress returns to Washington from the campaign trail should be to take action on the five-year extension of the federal farm bill.

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  • One of the first orders of business when the U.S. Congress returns to Washington from the campaign trail should be to take action on the five-year extension of the federal farm bill.
    While the Senate passed a bipartisan version of the bill, the House left town two weeks ago without a vote. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to bring the bill to a vote because House Republicans and Democrats could not resolve their differences over spending. As a result, the farm bill expired Sept. 30. Once again, the do-little 112th Congress shirked its responsibility to resolve a tough issue and instead opted to return home to run for re-election.
    What nerve.
    The outcome of the farm bill matters to the Finger Lakes region for a number of reasons. Agriculture is an important part of the Finger Lakes economy. The region's daily farmers, grain and fruit farmers and grape growers have relied on the farm bill for price support payments and crop insurance to cover losses in droughts and freezes.
    “Farmers should not be political pawns.” said Dean Norton, president of the New York Farm Bureau. “The uncertainty in moving forward not only puts their way of life in jeopardy, but it also threatens the food supply of every citizen.”
    Dairy farmers warn that both farmers and consumers could be hurt if Congress fails to act. The farm bill provides subsidies that include the Milk Income Loss Program, which compensates farmers for a portion of their loss when prices fall below a certain amount.
    “With no renewal of the Farm Bill, that program would go away,” said John Lincoln, an East Bloomfield dairy farmer. “That would be huge for family-size farms.”
    Consequently, consumer milk prices could rise, farmers warn.
    The region’s poor people also have a stake in the farm bill, which supports the nation’s food stamp program. Food stamps help feed roughly 46 million Americans, or 1 in 7. The key sticking point in the farm bill centers on how much money should be allotted for food stamps. Since 2008, the program has more than doubled in cost, to $80 billion a year, driven by high, sustained unemployment, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under President Barack Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus law.
    The Senate passed a version of the farm bill in June that cut spending on food stamps by $4.5 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times. A House committee version that never came to a vote cut them by an additional $16.5 billion. But many House Republican members want deeper cuts, causing the stalemate.
    U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-Amherst, and U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, illustrate both sides of the issue.
    Reed, who is running in the newly-drawn 23rd Congressional District, said he supports the farm bill but wants to cut costs to reduce the national debt. “I don’t want to make these cuts. But at the end of the day, we need to start living within our means,” he told the Buffalo News.
    Page 2 of 2 - Hochul, who is running in the newly-drawn 27th Congressional District, criticized Republicans for failure to act, saying: “There is no reason that our pleas for help on behalf of our farmers have gone unheeded. We have been asking since early this summer to give farmers the certainty they need to do their jobs to protect our food security, which is linked to our national security.”
    While there’s clearly a need to cut federal spending, legislators should not hold farmers and poor people hostage because of their inability to compromise and reach a consensus.
    Congress’ failure to act on the farm bill is yet another example of dysfunction in Washington.
    We hope that when the campaign ends that the 112th Congress returns to Washington to do the right thing on the farm bill.
    We also hope that the Nov. 6 election produces a 113th Congress that works for the people — rather than their ideologies and self-interests — and get things done.

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