DC Trip Overview – Guest Post (David Ruppenicker)

Southern Cotton Growers Executive Committee, Mike Tate, Allen McLaurin, Ronnie Lee, Kent Wannamaker, David Dunlow, JW Jones and I traveled to Washington, DC earlier this week to visit with key members of Congress regarding the impending farm bill.  Also accompanying the group was Mary Lil Wannamaker and Donna Jones.

The main thing you need to understand is that the process is very fluid to say the least.  Most give odds that the House Ag Committee farm bill will not be debated and voted on until during the 6-week lame duck session following the November 6th elections if even then.  Some questioned if there will even be a lame duck session while others say that there is already too many items on the agenda to warrant sufficient time to finalize a farm bill.  Having sufficient time to do anything is the real issue.

The House is in session through Friday of this week and only Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week and then they are out until after November 6th.  Congress must pass a continuing resolution (CR) before they leave DC to keep government funded because the current fiscal year ends on September 30th.  The feeling is that a 6-month CR (Oct. 1 – March 31st) will be approved either this week or next.  If nothing is done regarding a new, 5-year farm bill or a simple extension of the current act, the CR will guarantee disbursement of direct payments in October for the 2012 crop.  It is my understanding that there is no language contained in the CR pertaining to a farm bill extension.  There is a remote possibility that the House could debate the new farm bill on the floor next week or pass a simple extension of the current act.  While every member we visited understood and supports passage of a new farm bill, the stumbling block has more to do with cuts to nutrition programs (SNAP, etc.).  The Senate farm bill contains very moderate cuts on the nutrition side ($4 billion) whereas the House version supports more substantial cuts ($16 billion).

Some House members believe we would be better served if the nutrition portion of the farm bill was split out whereby it would stand on its own.  The only reason we have always supported keeping food stamps in the mix was to garner the suburban and urban votes which constitutes the majority of members.  Otherwise, they would not have a dog in the fight.  Also, if they were separated out, the agriculture committee’s make-up would probably consist of the absolute most liberal members on one side to protect nutrition programs and the most conservative rural members on the other to protect farm programs.  In other words, gridlock would run rampant and any compromise would be extremely hard to reach.

If Governor Romney was to win the Presidency and the Senate was to revert back to the Republicans, there is really no incentive to do anything until the changing of the guard after the inauguration.  The concern with this scenario from a farm bill perspective is three fold.  First, we would be writing a new farm bill using a reduced spending baseline from 2012 which could result in additional cuts.  Secondly, it is possible that newly elected members of both the House and the Senate may be more apt to adhere to the tea party philosophy and thirdly, we will be debating appropriation matters/cuts and a new farm bill simultaneously since the CR would expire at the end of March.  All of this is to say, now is the best time to pass a new farm bill.

We were very specific in our meetings with members of Congress that passage of a 5-year farm bill before they adjourn was our number one priority and in the best interest for all of agriculture.  Should they fail to act in a timely manner, we strongly recommended that a simple, 1-year extension of the current act for 2013 was the best option.

I’ll keep you posted on any further developments.  Please contact me should you have any questions or comments.  Thanks

David Ruppenicker, CEO

Southern Cotton Growers, Inc.