Weld County farmers are frustrated that Congress has failed to pass an updated farm bill, but they stopped short this week of joining critics of Rep. Cory Gardner, who have accused him of not doing enough to argue their cause.
Gardner, R-Colo., has taken criticism recently for not signing a petition that would bring a proposed farm bill to the House floor for a vote. Sixty-five other congressmen have signed the petition, well short of the 218 needed to bring a vote.
Gardner says he has his reasons.
In a phone interview this week, Gardner said he hasn’t signed the discharge petition because the House Republican leadership has told him the votes aren’t there to pass the bill as it stands. And, if the proposed bill is forced to the floor by the petition and gets voted down, the farm bill process would have to start all over, Gardner said.
“I spoke with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy last week ... and he said the bill would not pass if the House took a vote on it right now,” Gardner said. “I want a new farm bill in the worst way to help our producers, but I’d hate to see us restart this process now if the House votes down a bill that we’ve put a lot of time into.
Kent Peppler, a Mead-area farmer who serves as president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and other Weld farmers said this week that they don’t much care how a farm bill gets passed, they just want to see it happen. They said they don’t want to engage in finger-pointing, either.
“We just really want to see something passed as soon as possible, so we know how to plan,” Peppler said. “Producers need certainty going forward. Ideally this will all get taken care of quickly in the lame-duck session.”
Gardner has taken heat from state Senate President Brandon Shaffer, a Democrat who’s running for Gardner’s seat in the November election, for not signing the farm bill discharge petition.
Others, too, have questioned why Gardner hasn’t signed the petition.
“Our representatives should have the courage to govern — even in an election year,” Shaffer said in a statement after the 2008 farm bill expired on Sept. 30. “I am beyond frustrated with Washington. Congress is holding our farms hostage in order to win political points. It’s irresponsible for Rep. Gardner and Congress to leave to go campaign without getting the job done.”
Farm bills are five-year collections of agricultural subsidies and incentives that include everything from commodity and conservation programs to price supports for milk to food stamps.
House leadership hasn’t reached agreement on some sections of the proposed bill that passed out of the House Committee on Agriculture this summer. Some of the deep divisions are over how much money should be cut to food assistance programs.
Despite the farm bill’s expiration, many programs will continue into next year without a new bill being passed or an extension going through, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. Many programs will continue to operate under a six-month stopgap budget agreement that will keep government agencies running through the end of March, although concern has been expressed about dairy programs that will expire before then.
Still, not having a new farm bill — referred to by farmers and ranchers as the “rules of the game” for agriculture, leaves much uncertainty for producers, who are already far into the planning stages of next year’s growing season, or at least should be by this time of the year.
The discharge petition was formed in September. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., is among those who have signed it. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., was the only other Colorado congressman to sign the petition, but he withdrew his signature on the same day he signed it. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has expressed frustration about the lack of progress in the House on a farm bill.
Gardner’s district is the 11th most-productive agriculture district in the nation. Weld County, specifically, is a top-10 agricultural producer in the U.S.
Gardner said he’d rather let House leadership continue discussions on the bill during the recess, make the amendments needed to get more votes, and have the bill ready to go to the floor shortly after the House reconvenes for its lame-duck session once the November elections have passed.
Gardner noted that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said passing a farm bill will be a high priority for him in the lame-duck session.
“I’m optimistic we can go forward with what we have, and get something in place that will benefit our producers,” Gardner said. “I just don’t think it’s in our best interest to force this to a vote and, if it doesn’t work out, going back to the drawing board.”