For the last several years, commodity prices have been so high that farmers haven't been concerned about their safety net and farm leaders have found it impossible to get their members to put on the kind of grassroots campaigns that are usually required to get a bill enacted. Those high prices have allowed Republicans, particularly in the House, to engage in an endless debate over food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.Personally, I don't see it being a big part of the 2014 elections. While farmers vote, there just aren't a huge number of people who actually get government money as farmers. In the end, the food stamp portion affects way more people, and that is what the Republicans really want to cut. Politically, those cuts probably won't hurt most rural Republicans, but you never can tell.
Now big crops and the Obama administration's decision to consider lowering the volumetric requirements for corn-based ethanol and biodiesel under the renewable-fuel standard have sent commodity prices plummeting and raised questions about land values. As Bloomberg has reported, corn prices in 2013 experienced their biggest one-year drop since 1960 and wheat prices dropped the most in five years. Prices haven't fallen below profitable levels yet, but farmers and their bankers now see that they need the certainty of a five-year bill, whatever its details.
Since the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a farm bill in 2012 and 2013 and the House passed it in 2013 after the most excruciating lengthy battle, there seems to be an understanding in political circles that if the conference report gets held up, rural voters will see it as the fault of the Republicans in general and the House Republicans in particular.
The evidence can already be seen in key Senate races. In December, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said that the vote of his expected opponent, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, against a comprehensive farm bill last June because it didn't cut food stamps enough had hurt Arkansas farmers. Pryor urged farmers to ask Cotton how he will vote on the conference report that will most certainly include both commodity programs and food stamps.
In Kentucky, Allison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has charged in a TV ad that Congress's slowness in passing a farm bill means "McConnell's failure to lead hurts Kentucky farmers." Grimes has also called McConnell's vote against the Senate farm bill "shameful."
McConnell, who also faces a Republican primary, justified his vote, telling reporters, "In the Senate bill, it just largely became a food-stamp bill with production agriculture kind of stuck on as an afterthought."
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is not up for reelection in 2014, but she recently used the farm bill in a fundraising letter. "The failure to pass a strong farm bill could do serious damage to Wisconsin's economy and to communities all over the country who depend on family farms moving local economies forward. Tea-party obstructionists can't be allowed to play political games with America's rural economy," Baldwin wrote to her supporters.
The farm bill could also become an issue in Senate races in Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Does the GOP Need To Pass a Farm Bill?