Congress made a promise to rural America when it passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which was the bi-partisan product of more than three years of careful deliberation and 40 hearings.
Although the 2014 Farm Bill reduced spending by $23 billion, lawmakers promised farmers that the bill would still provide them a strong five-year safety net to manage extreme weather and wild price swings caused, in part, by foreign subsidies and market manipulation.
In return, farmers promised to underpin a food production system that is the envy of the world.
Farmers relied on Congress’ promise to make long-term business decisions, purchasing new technology and equipment to maximize efficiency. New and beginning farmers relied on Congress’ promise to begin agricultural careers at a time when the farmer population was rapidly aging. Small businesses in rural America relied on Congress’ promise to put people to work and revitalize small towns. And lenders relied on Congress’ promise to make the loans needed to secure the country’s food, fuel and fiber supply.
Now those promises are in danger of being broken.
Extreme-minded, anti-farmer groups like Heritage Action, American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Environmental Working Group have made gutting farm policy a top priority.
And farm critics on Capitol Hill like Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Congressmen Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Ron Kind (D-WI) have been all too happy to oblige, introducing legislation designed to reopen and weaken the 2014 Farm Bill before its ink was even dry.
They’ve had some success, too. A recent budget package, which was produced without any input from rural America or Congress’ Agriculture Committees, contained cuts designed to cripple the crop insurance system on which most farmers depend.
Rural America rallied in response, and cooler heads in Congress prevailed. Congress promised to repeal the crop insurance cuts in an upcoming omnibus appropriations package. Congress also promised not to reopen the Farm Bill or harm farm policy with amendments in the omnibus bill.
Unfortunately, Congressional promises have never meant much to farm policy opponents.
Special interest groups held back-to-back Capitol Hill briefings on Nov. 17 urging that the crop insurance cuts remain in place and that sugar policy be weakened during the omnibus process. And Rep. Pitts and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) sent out a letter to colleagues promoting an anti-sugar omnibus amendment they plan to introduce.
This kind of flip-flopping is hard for rural Americans to understand. In farm country, a promise really means something, and you trust someone when they give you their word. The question is, does a promise still mean anything on Capitol Hill?
Farmers and ranchers are giving lawmakers the benefit of the doubt. Now its up to Congress to maintain that trust by restoring crop insurance funding and keeping sugar policy amendments off the omnibus.