Cliff hanger: U.S. senators want bill to move forward

With approximately two weeks remaining until the current farm bill expires, both U.S. senators from Ohio say they hope a deal can be reached on new legislation — one that is longer than a year.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown criticized House members for failing to act since the Senate has already passed a strong bipartisan bill. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

Brown said House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, needs to schedule a vote and move the legislation forward.

“I know there is great interest in this among every farm group I know including those who are traditionally more Republican and those who are traditionally more Democrat,” Brown said. “They want to see this passed because we did the right thing, we did the right thing in saving money for taxpayers, we did the right thing in building a safety net.”

A strong agricultural safety net is crucial, Brown said, during times of low prices and drought, much like as the country has experienced this summer.

“It is essential that the House moves forward on this and put the bill on the floor, let them vote on it so it can go to conference committee and be passed by Sept. 30 or soon after that,” Brown said.

With sequestration looming, he said he hopes the farm bill moves forward so it does not absorb across the board cuts like other programs. In light of sequestration, he noted they need to look at procurement processes and raising taxes on the rich so they pay their fair share.

The offices of Brown and Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman have recently been visited by farmers and members of farm groups, who have discussed their agricultural concerns in general as well as providing their thoughts on a new farm bill to the federal legislators.

“I have been getting farm groups input and frankly what they are saying they would like a longer term farm bill and they typically mention five years,” said Portman, who met early Wednesday with members of the Ohio Pork Producers. “One of the concerns they had this morning is if we do something more short term then it wouldn’t give them the certainty they need. They might be able to achieve this more easily after the election during a lame duck session.

“I found this interesting because I am hearing the opposite from some legislators on the Ag Committee who want to do something now to avoid the possibility of going into the calendar year end, which is the crop year end, and having to revert back to the previous legislation because the law would expire,” he said. “We are sorting that out.”

Portman supports the 20 percent of the bill devoted to commodities, and he would like to see a review of the 80 percent devoted to food security, or food programs for the poor. He questioned a 50 percent increase in food stamp spending.

“I really support the part that these farmers are focused on and I am hopeful we can get something done in these last few days before the election,” Portman said. “If we can’t I also would support doing something after the election to ensure that we don’t have another cliff in the area.

“We already have a fiscal cliff, we also have a regulatory cliff and we certainly don’t want an agriculture cliff.”