The short answer is “yes…at least for a while.”
When Congress returns from its traditional August recess this week, it will immediately begin debate over how to respond to the situation in Syria. An already crowded legislative agenda will now be busting at the seams. Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 are the magical dates for a number of issues, including expiration of the current farm bill extension.
Since this is a new blog, and Congress has been on recess for the last five weeks, here’s a quick recap of where the farm bill stands.
Following the Senate’s passage of the farm bill in June, the House failed to pass its version of the bill in early July. Concern over the level of cuts to the nutrition title was largely blamed for the bill’s downfall. In response, the House chose to split the nutrition title from the other titles of the bill and pass a “farm-program only” farm bill and bring it back to the floor prior to the August recess. This time the bill passed by a vote of 216-208, with 12 republicans joining 196 democrats in opposition to the bill. All votes in support of the bill came from the other side of the aisle, including all six Alabama republicans. It was expected that the House’s bill would go to conference with the Senate bill that contained a nutrition title, and the differences would be worked out in committee. However, almost immediately after the bill passed the House, it was announced that a separate nutrition bill would be brought up in September and would be voted on prior to the House naming conferees.
Now, the question is when will this separate nutrition title bill make it to the floor, and is it possible to get a bill through conference, a final bill voted on in both chambers and signed by the President prior to Sept. 30?
In addition to the farm bill expiring Sept. 30, the current continuing resolution that provides all discretionary funding for the federal government expires that same day. There has been movement by some in the Republican Party to use the continuing resolution as a means to defund at least part of Obamacare. While there may still be some effort on that front, it appears momentum may be shifting toward using the debt ceiling as a means for debate on Obamacare. The President has already delayed the corporate mandate for a year, but the individual mandate is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.
The debt ceiling was expected to be addressed later in the fall, presumably after settling on a continuing resolution to fund the government, but just like the Syrian situation came as a surprise to legislators working in their districts during the recess, the Treasury Secretary sent word in late August that the United States would reach its borrowing limit in October. Regardless of the vehicle the republicans will use to bring Obamacare to the front lines that debate will also occur this month.
Where will the farm bill stack up in the frenzied nine legislative days scheduled for September? Hopefully, near the top, but it will take continued pressure on Congress to make sure it is not overlooked in the rush to handle foreign policy and fiscal matters.
Unfortunately, there may still be some bad blood between the two parties from the failure of the farm bill in July. By the time Congress debates a Syrian response, Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling, democrats and republicans are likely to be even further divided, which will make it even more difficult for them to come together on a farm bill.
Farmers have waited long enough for the certainly they need. Congress should devote the necessary time to passing a bill because, frankly, providing farmers with the tools they need to keep the United States as a food-secure nation could be considered more important to our national security than the unfortunate events that have recently transpired in Syria.