By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division
Our U.S. Congress is about to take a five-week break from their work in Washington to return to their home states where they will visit with constituents at town hall meetings, march in parades, shake hands at county fairs and hold assorted re-election fundraisers. Since the 113th Congress convened in January, the Senate has been in session for 97 days and the House for 100 days, but sadly, when they depart the nation’s capital on Aug. 2, they will leave a plate full of unfinished business.
None of the 12 annual fiscal 2014 bills have been sent to the president for his signature, including the Agriculture spending bill, which passed each chamber’s Appropriations Committees in June, but still awaits a formal vote in Congress. The agriculture spending bill funds a host of programs that AVMA cares about, including: the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, agriculture research that is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meat and poultry inspections, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s programs, and other USDA agencies and programs.
We are most certainly headed for one or more short-term continuing resolutions which will keep the government running while Congress works to pass a budget deal and spending bills. I don’t see how Congress can tackle the spending bills with just nine legislative days scheduled in September. There is a boatload of work to be done and not enough time to do it.
Although versions of the Farm Bill have passed both the Senate and the House, lawmakers have not officially begun meeting to reconcile the differences between the two versions. The reason for the delay is due to a disagreement over how deeply to cut food stamps and other food aid programs in the nutrition title. The House leadership convened a group of Republican lawmakers to work out a deal on food aid cuts in July, but they could not come to an agreement before the August recess.
The House decided to remove the nutrition title from its version of the Farm Bill, thus creating a “farm only” Farm Bill. Now the House needs to either pass a separate bill dealing with food aid or they need to agree to go to conference with the Senate where lawmakers from both chambers can work out a compromise. The difficulty with this scenario is a faction of conservative lawmakers who seek deeper cuts than the $16.5 billion included in the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill. These folks are unlikely to agree on any such compromise and to get a bill through the House–they need 218 votes and they simply don’t have them.
The House leadership is considering passing another one-year extension if they are unable to break the impasse on the Farm Bill. Standing in the way of an extension of current law is the Senate leadership, which has publicly stated that they will not agree to another extension.
On Aug. 1, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee named its Senate conference committee members who will assist in negotiating an agreement on the Farm Bill with the U.S. House. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that the House will appoint its conferees in early September, following the August congressional recess.
The stalemate over the Farm Bill must be resolved before the current version expires September 30.