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Farm Bill More Difficult with Growing Rural Disconnect

DC Dialogue

Rep. Cantor looks to be the greatest hurdle in getting a farm bill to conference as nutrition title stalls conferencing between House and Senate.

Published on: July 26, 2013

The stalled farm bill reiterates why it's no surprise we're having a hard time telling agriculture's needs these days as our audience is becoming more disconnected from the farm.

When you look at the people's chamber – the House of Representatives – only 60 members have any meaningful portion of their district in a rural or any significant sectors of their constituents as farmers.

One-in-four Americans now live in just 9 cities, each with a population of over 5 million. More than half of all Americans, 55%, live in cities with a population of 1 million or more. And although 25% of the population lives in rural America, a mere 2% is involved actively in farming.

And so it's no surprise that the fate of the next farm bill really lies in the hands of city folks who don't realize what's at stake.

Today I would say the biggest obstacle to passing a farm bill isn't House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as many blamed last year. Instead, I think it squarely lies on the shoulders of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Politico reported that Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, met with Cantor Tuesday, prepared to make concessions on food stamp cuts. She was originally opposed to the $20.5 billion in nutrition cuts, but was looking to have some of the controversial amendments pulled. She came out of the meeting with a sense that Cantor doesn't want a bill.

In recent weeks 20 selected Republicans, mostly conservative, have been meeting with House leaders and House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., trying to settle on a nutrition bill.

In a radio interview Lucas said regarding farm bill action, "My personal goal is by some point next week, if it’s quite clear that consensus cannot be achieved, if it’s just not achievable, then I think we need to recognize that fact and move on conferencing the bill that the Senate’s passed and the House has passed and see what evolves from that. But right now still trying to achieve consensus. That consensus is at the very least elusive. It might even be impossible. But I’m still trying."

In an exchange on the House floor Thursday, Cantor told Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's, D-Md., "It is not accurate that we don't intend to eventually go to conference and iron out the differences between the House and Senate on both of those issues, on the ag policies as well as the nutrition policies."

But actions speak louder than words. Republican leadership needs to move forward on conferencing ahead of the August, or the bill will continue to languish as time is running out. Only 9 legislative days remain before the bill expires at the end of September.