by Tonya Allen It’s a novel concept—folks sitting down together to sort out their differences.
So novel in fact, at least in the halls of Congress, that not a single Conference Committee Meeting has been held all year … until last week.
The fact that the first Conference Committee Meeting of the 113th Congress is arriving alongside the early November chill is likely surprising to some.
The fact that the topic of the discussion at hand is agriculture? Not so much.
Agriculture has stepped up to the plate time and time again.
And they are doing it now, heading to conference with a Farm Bill that would save an additional $12.8 to $14 billion from farm policies alone over the next 10 years – $19.2 to $20 billion when sequestration is accounted according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections.
Agriculture has established a reputation for leading by example. It was agriculture that picked up the slack when the rest of the economy relied on CPR from a government that was already overextended.
Recognizing the country’s challenges and its own successes, it was agriculture that was willing to help Washington get its financial house in order.
In recent years, it was agriculture that accepted more than $15 billion in funding cuts. Considering farm policies make up just one-quarter of one percent of federal spending, that cut is a much higher percentage than other industries.
In fact, relative to budget projections made in 2002, farm policy in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills has billion. Actual farm safety net spending has come in under the projected budget in seven of the last eight years.
Total government spending on farm safety net programs – including all commodity programs and crop insurance – dropped by two-thirds from fiscal years 2000 to 2012, according to data provided by USDA and the Congressional Budget Office. The reduction took place as spending on commodity programs – including direct, counter-cyclical, loan deficiency and other payments which once represented the lion’s share of safety net spending – has been slowly phased down in favor of crop insurance, which is partially self-funded through farmer premiums and farmer deductibles.
So it should come as no surprise that it is agriculture that is again stepping up to the plate, ready to make the necessary sacrifices in order to shake loose months of gridlock and help our nation turn the corner in the wake of a government shutdown.
But a willingness to make financial sacrifices isn’t the only thing that makes agriculture a unique breed in Washington. It also largely transcends political bickering, as evidenced by the convening of this rare conference committee.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle rightfully understand that the Farm Bill is much more than the policy behind production agriculture—it’s a job creator, the protector of our domestic food system, it’s a facilitator of a deep cultural history and it helps take care of our land and water making it useful and sustainable for generations to come.
The convening of this committee is a clear testament to the importance of the a “thin green line” of only 210,000 full-time U.S. farms that produce 80 percent of our food and fiber in the face of exceptional risks like unpredictable weather, volatile markets, or heavily subsidized foreign competitors.
The fact that this committee was convened in the face of some special interest groups from the fringes that have been hypercritical of a farm policy is especially encouraging.
The convening of this committee and the concessions being made by agriculture should serve as an example for others to follow suit and the industry should be applauded as consensus-builder and model of fiscal responsibility and how to get things done right.
Agriculture has stepped up to the plate. Who else is ready to play ball?