Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Region’s ag community peeved at House

Local growers and agencies expressed their exasperation with the House of Representatives and its failure once again to agree on a farm bill.

Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council based in Moscow, Idaho, said Thursday’s vote in the House was unprecedented. The Senate passed its own version of the legislation, which instituted food stamp benefit cuts totaling about one-fifth of House plans, or $400 million a year. The Senate bill’s total price tag, including insurance payments to farmers and money to expand overseas markets vital to the Inland Northwest’s international crop trade, is about double that of the failed House proposal.

“I’ve been working on farm bills since 1985, and this is the first one in my history that we haven’t seen it pass the House of Representatives,” McGreevy said. A farm bill made it out of the House’s Agriculture Committee last year but never came to the floor for a vote.

This week, area farmer Brett Blankenship of the National Wheat Growers Association said he hoped this year would be different.

“The country needs a farm bill,” he said.

It’s further from getting one today after changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the 2008 replacement for food stamps, created a rift in the House GOP.

Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republicans representing Central and Eastern Washington, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, all voted in favor of the House’s bill.

Rep. Raul Labrador, who’s earned a reputation as a spending hawk, cast one of 62 Republican votes against the measure.

The farm bill has historically ignored party lines and revealed the geographic loyalties of lawmakers. That hasn’t been the case in the House over the past couple of years, drawing the ire of Idaho Grain Producers Association President Clark Hamilton.

“Idaho’s grain farmers made huge compromises to pass a bill, and it is frustrating that Congress couldn’t do the same,” Hamilton said in a statement.

McMorris Rodgers expressed hope that a new farm bill might be passed before the current law expires at the end of September. Last year, when no bill emerged from the House, lawmakers had to rush to include an extension of the 2008 farm bill in the “fiscal cliff” deal.

McGreevy was hopeful, too. But the vote’s sting was still fresh.

“It was not a good day for agriculture, conservation, food nutrition assistance, trade and the 23 million jobs across the United States that agriculture touches,” McGreevy said.

– Kip Hill