Noem pushes for action on farm billLeaders say House bill now short of 218 votes needed to pass.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., painted a grim picture Thursday of the chances the full U.S. House of Representatives will take up the farm bill, but she feels momentum in that direction.
“Republicans and Democrats agree that getting the farm bill done is critical,” Noem told reporters.
Noem met Wednesday with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to push to get the bill passed last week by the Agriculture Committee onto the floor for a vote. Time is needed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions in a conference committee before the existing farm bill expires Sept. 30, she said.
“The farm bill needs to be a priority when it comes to scheduling floor time,” Noem said. “He certainly didn’t give me any assurances that the bill would be brought to floor.”
The Senate passed its version of a farm bill last month, but the House Agriculture Committee’s version differs in many ways from the Senate bill.
Noem said Cantor and other House leaders are not necessarily opposed to the farm bill, but they want to avoid having a bill fail there. They currently don’t have the 218 votes needed to pass the bill, Noem said.
“They recognize the importance of ag policy and don’t want to damage it by bringing the bill to the floor and not have a successful vote on it,” Noem said. “We are working all the members to see what we can do to have a successful vote.”
Noem said she argues that food security equals national security, and an effective farm bill is a way to ensure America won’t have to rely on other nations to feed its people. And she stresses the positive influence the agriculture sector has had on the nation’s economy.
The bill faces opponents from both the left and right, she said. Critics on the left have assailed the Agriculture Committee’s bill for the cuts it makes to food stamp and other nutrition programs.
“Those cuts caused us to lose a lot of Democratic support,” Noem said. “And there are Republicans who don’t come from ag districts who look at the farm bill as farm welfare and don’t understand the importance of these programs.”
Noem frequently defends the food stamp reforms passed by the Agriculture Committee, on which she serves. Making lottery winners ineligible for food stamps and curtailing bonuses to states for signing up more recipients make fiscal and common sense, she said.
“We’ve tried to make sure people who really rely on these programs and need it still get it,” she said.
Especially critical in the face of the nation’s deepening drought is an expired livestock disaster program included in the current farm bill, Noem said.
“Right now, there are South Dakota livestock producers who are uncovered,” she said.
Noem said she is working to include retroactive livestock disaster payments in any new farm bill or a possible extension of the existing bill’s programs.
In addition, Noem said she spoke with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and urged him to open CRP acres to haying and grazing before the traditional date of Aug. 1. The drought and grasshoppers will ravage any value left in the grass by then, she said, calling August “simply too late.” Noem has secured support for such a move from sportsmen’s groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, allaying some concern over the hatching of wild birds. That seemed to sway Vilsack, she said.
Noem and Rep. Peter Welch, of Vermont, have gained 60 signatures on a letter urging House leaders to take quick action on the farm bill. She said she expects that number to continue growing.
If Congress does not pass a new farm bill by the end of September, the members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation have said they fully expect the existing farm bill to be extended. Noem said that would be OK, but a longer term agriculture policy would be better.
“The current farm bill works pretty well for South Dakota,” Noem said. “Our producers deserve to have policies and certainty within those policies.”