A bright spot in a seemingly dismal day of political wrangling Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took a step towards farm bill conference by appointing five Republican and seven Democratic Senators to serve as conferees with the House.
While the government shutdown, which took effect simultaneously Monday night with the expiration of the farm bill, initially had many groups chastising lawmakers for inaction Tuesday morning, the announcement of conferees offered small consolation to ag groups pushing for a way forward.
Sen. Reid offered up twelve names for the committee: Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., John Boozman, R-Ark., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Groups say government impasse is compromising farm bill prospects, but Senate injects optimism with naming of conferees
Though the House and the Senate have steep hills to climb before reaching agreement on a final bill, they must also face criticism from farm groups that expected a speedier process.
American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy and American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman each weighed in the bill's expiration, explaining what's at stake for producers.
"Frankly, we've run out of ways to say we're disappointed," Murphy said of the lengthy farm bill process. He expressed concern that without an agreement, government programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and Market Access Program will be at stake. Also without funding is the Foreign Market Development Program and Food For Peace food aid program.
"Shutting down the MAP and FMD programs will bring immediate and harsh consequences for the soy industry," Murphy said. "Congress' shortsighted failure to pass a farm bill isn't just a political embarrassment; it will cost the industry global market share almost immediately."
Stallman tied the farm bill to budget and deficit issues that Congress is attempting to clear before moving on farm policy. He said that relationship is adding to farmer frustration.
"Farm Bureau members are deeply concerned over the political challenges that are making it next to impossible for Congress to reach a compromise on important legislation, while restoring fiscal order and setting a responsible course to get the federal budget back on track," Stallmand said in a statement.
"Adding to our frustration, both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill would provide significant savings that could be applied toward reducing the federal deficit."
Among top concerns for other industry groups is what will happen if the farm bill is not reauthorized before the end of the year. Colin Woodall, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Cattlemen's Association, said in an NCBA interview that Congress has approximately three months to appoint conferees and work on a compromise for the farm bill before the real effects start to hit home.
"I'd expect they will take every bit of that," Woodall speculated, noting that time is not on ag producers' side, especially with other political issues in play.
"That's probably one of the biggest concerns about this government shutdown is the fact that it is taking away time that Congress would otherwise be spending in a conference committee to complete the farm bill," he said.