If members of Congress learned anything from the recent election, it should be this: The American people want their leaders to stop the bickering, overcome the gridlock, and work together to solve problems.
During the current negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff,” I am pressing Senate leaders to include a bipartisan — and fiscally responsible — Farm Bill as an important part of the budget solution.
The Senate passed a five-year measure back in June after months of work by Senators who reached across party lines to agree on a final package. Where differences existed, senators from both parties worked them out. The result was a bill that not only reforms and modernizes our agriculture programs and strengthens the farm safety net, but also creates jobs and economic vitality in communities in Minnesota and across the country.
The measure — supported by the nation’s farm and rural leaders — passed the Senate with an overwhelming 64 votes, a rarity these days when frustrating gridlock can stop even the most important efforts. Best of all, the bill saves money — tens of billions of dollars — that can help ease efforts to reduce the budget deficit.
The House Agriculture Committee, with strong leadership from Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, also passed a bipartisan Farm Bill this summer. Unfortunately, despite months of effort by Rep. Peterson, national farm leaders, and farm-state members from both parties, Republican leaders have refused to allow the House to vote on it. The House leaders’ misguided actions have not only complicated our efforts to enact a new Farm Bill, but also have blocked the real budget savings this legislation has to offer.
Beyond the budget impact, the lack of a five-year Farm Bill will have far-reaching consequences, not only for farmers and ranchers, but for consumers as well, who may see milk prices jump dramatically in January unless there is a new law.
In Minnesota, where the agriculture industry supports one in five jobs, we have an important stake in getting a bill enacted. The last Farm Bill expired on October 1, and our farmers, livestock producers and rural entrepreneurs need a new law to give them the stability to plan for next year and into the future.
I was very pleased that the Senate Farm Bill, backed by Minnesota farm groups, included my measures to help farmers and small businesses save money and earn income by investing in renewable energy and energy efficient technology, as well as my provision to support beginning farmers. The bill also makes important investments in renewable energy, the conservation of our land and water, dairy program stability and food and nutrition programs. And it protects the sugar program.
Despite the current obstacles, I remain optimistic we can get a Farm Bill done this year, and I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. That’s why this past week I wrote to the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, urging them once again to include the bipartisan Senate bill in any new budget deal, and called Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack directly to urge him to work with the White House to get this done.
I am also pleased that the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, along with Secretary Vilsack, have continued to discuss ways to get a five-year Farm Bill done before the end of the year.
A bipartisan Farm Bill makes sense for many reasons, and with its budget savings, it should be a priority during the current budget negotiations.
Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.