House GOP punts on farm bill
House Republican leaders announced Thursday they will not take action on a new farm bill until after the November elections -- a sign of sharp internal GOP divisions on a critical political issue for many members of Congress.
"We will deal with the farm bill after the election," said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "The current situation that we face is we've got people who believe there's not enough reform in the farm bill that came out of (the House Agriculture) committee, (and) we've got others who believe that there's too much reform in the bill that came out of the committee."
Boehner indicated GOP leaders do not believe they currently have the votes to pass either a short-term extension or a more comprehensive five-year measure.
The current five-year law establishing various levels of federal support for farmers and ranchers -- now struggling with drought in many parts of the country -- expires September 30. A failure to pass a new law won't impact existing federal support in 2012, though it would have a significant impact on agricultural markets in 2013, according to Dale Moore, a public policy deputy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
While the Democratic-run Senate passed a comprehensive $969 billion replacement bill in June through a rare bipartisan 64-35 vote, numerous conservatives in the Republican-controlled House have balked at the overall price tag and rising cost of food stamps included in the measure.
Several Farm Belt Republicans in tight political races this year, however, have pushed hard for quick legislative action on a five-year plan.
North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, a freshman House Republican running for retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad's seat, told CNN Thursday he was "frustrated with the Republican leadership."
"We have to get a five-year, long-term bill passed. I'm really disappointed," he said. "Agriculture is one of our bright shining spots in America right now, and we don't need to put this cloud of uncertainty over it."
Berg argued that GOP leaders should have allowed a full House vote on the Agriculture Committee measure.
The committee's bill has a number of similarities to the Senate plan.
Asked about the farm bill's legislative prospects in the post-election lame duck session of Congress, Berg said, "I look back over history and this is more normal than not. ... I'm just doing everything I can do."
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, told CNN there were "10 different reasons" why the House has so far failed to act.
"Some people think the food stamps are too high. Some people don't like the sugar program. Some people don't like the dairy program. Some people don't like the farm bill at all," he said.
Peterson said he believes farm bill advocates will ultimately "get a shot" after the election.
"I think they're taking a (political) risk," he said in reference to the House Republicans. "But they apparently don't think it's a problem."
Moore told CNN that "we can whine and complain all we want, but the bottom line is this segment of the game is over. We've got to get our strategy together and move our chips onto the lame duck line."