WASHINGTON — In about 10 groups of 10, Ohio Farm Bureau members armed themselves with information packets and Buckeye candy and knocked on doors Wednesday morning, lobbying members of Congress on the Farm Bill, immigration reform and water quality regulation.
Wednesday was the last of three days of education and lobbying done by county Farm Bureau presidents gathered in Washington. Bureau members from West Central Ohio visited Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ubana, and Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green. The larger group also heard from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati.
Troy Ernest, a hog farmer from eastern Allen County, had a simple message to deliver to Jordan on behalf of the organization.
“We want a good reformed guest worker program for those people in agriculture who use the guest worker program,” Ernest said.
Others in the group reminded Jordan about the many fruit and vegetable growers he has in his district, some of which is new from redistricting, especially in Sandusky and Crawford counties.
Jordan sits on the Judicial Committee subcommittee that’s dealing with immigration reform. True to form, he was blunt with the men in his office, who know that Jordan’s first priority on immigration is a secure border.
“I’ll tell you, what the president did last week (releasing undocumented inmates from prison) doesn’t help matters,” Jordan said. “You have to do what’s right, respect the rule of law, and secure the borders first. … If you’re not going to secure the border, it’s tough to get anywhere else.”
In Jordan’s mind, border security is a large hurdle to get over, but if it can be done, he’d consider other pieces of policy. If his security concerns are satisfied, than “we should look at trying to make things better for people who want to come here and work legally. I’m all for that.”
Jordan also reminded the group he’s in favor of moving farmers away from subsidies and special programs, and moving to a market-based system for agricultural commodities, with “some kind of insurance.”
Auglaize County Farm Bureau President Rick Tangeman said crop insurance is very important to farmers.
“We need to save whatever we can of the risk management through crop insurance,” Tangeman said.
Farmers want a new five-year bill that addresses safety net needs such as crop insurance.
The current bill is actually an extension of the old one. While the Senate passed a version last year, the House did not. Instead, as part of Fiscal Cliff negotiations, Congress extended the old Farm Bill through the end of September. It was the Republican leadership in the House, according to published reports, that refused to bring a farm bill to the floor for a vote in 2012.
Latta, whose 5th Congressional District is the largest agricultural district in the state, said the general dysfunction of the federal government is preventing passage of a new Farm Bill.
“Too many things keep getting in the way: Making tax cuts permanent, the debt ceiling, sequestration, a budget, then the debt ceiling again,” Latta said. “All those other things have occupied people, but they’ve got to get the farm bill out of there. We just can’t go to Sept. 30 and pass another (extension). To get all the things you want done, it has to be a new bill, you have to start over. That’s not real good news, but that’s where it’s at.”
No changes can be made to an extension; changes in the Farm Bill can’t be made until there is a new five-year bill that’s written from scratch.
That is what the Senate plans to do, Brown told the group during a Wednesday morning speech. Brown sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate passed its version of a Farm Bill in 2012, but now that work will start over.
Politicians are good at playing the blame game: For two days, farmers have been hearing about the Senate’s failure to pass a budget, but on Wednesday, Brown reminded the group it was only the Senate that passed a Farm Bill in 2012. And, in the Senate Agriculture Committee, senators agreed on savings in an attempt to avoid the across-the-board budget cuts that are happening now.
“Some people don’t understand the breadth of the Farm Bill, and what you can accomplish with it,” Brown said. “It’s a food bill, a development bill, energy bill, conservation bill. There were some parochial, southern interests last year in the House and the House couldn’t get its act together to pass a bill.”
Portman voted against that Senate-passed bill in 2012, because it violated the Budget Control Act, which was passed in 2011. Much of the cost in the Farm Bill is from government nutrition assistance programs, such as food stamps. The cost of food stamps has doubled in the past eight years, Portman said.
“I don’t think we should measure compassion by how many people we get on food stamps,” Portman said. “We should measure it by how many people we get off food stamps and get on to a job.”
Portman supported the farm pieces of the farm bill, and said he appreciated Farm Bureau’s move away from advocating for direct payments.
“I think it’s a good bill on the commodities side, and I want to be able to support it,” Portman said.