Congressman John Delaney

Representing the 6th District of Maryland
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Delaney: The Clock is Ticking on Desperately Needed Farm Bill

Dec 9, 2013
In The News

On December 8, Congressman Delaney authored an op-ed in the Frederick News-Post  on the farm bill and its impact on Maryland agriculture.

You can read the op-ed online or here:

The clock is ticking on desperately needed farm bill

Last week, as you gathered around the Thanksgiving table, you may have had a political argument or two. I strongly doubt, however, that you let a political position dictate when you ate, how you cooked your turkey or whether or not you used canned or fresh cranberries. That’s because food isn’t a partisan issue. At least, it didn’t used to be.

With one week left on the House calendar in 2013, we still haven’t passed the farm bill. This could have profound impacts on both Frederick County and the nation. Nothing is more elemental than our food supply. But if Washington fails to compromise this December, we could seriously damage the economic recovery, hurt our nation’s farmers, and send supermarket prices soaring.

The House and Senate have each passed versions of a farm bill, but unprecedented partisan bickering has left us with only a handful of legislative days to do the right thing. As I told a group of farmers in Smithsburg earlier this year, I’m prepared to vote for a compromise. This compromise isn’t likely to have everything that I want, or that my party wants, but I’m ready to accept the best deal for the country. And I urge my colleagues to do the same.

The farm bill has traditionally acted as the primary agricultural and food policy tool for the federal government. It has funded food and nutritional programs, crop insurance, research and rural development programs. This legislative approach was born in the Great Depression, when our nation’s farms were devastated by both a financial and a climactic crisis. Since then, we’ve ensured that farmers can operate without worrying that a single bad season destroys their livelihood.

Over 350,000 Marylanders are employed in the agricultural sector and agriculture is our largest commercial industry. Maryland farmers have made it very clear to me: they need a long-term farm bill so they can make prudent financial decisions that reflect the rules of the road. Washington chaos makes proper planning impossible.

One of the biggest concerns for Maryland farmers is the uncertainty of future federal policy for the dairy industry. Maryland produces about 1 billion pounds of milk every year, making dairy farmers central to the health of our state's agricultural industry. As you know, Frederick County is the largest dairy producer in our state. If we enter January without a farm bill, we revert back to pre-1950 laws that, according to CNBC, could lead to milk that costs $8 dollars per gallon. This will wreak havoc on the entire diary market and will be bad for producers and consumers.

So what’s holding up the farm bill?

The final sticking point between the House and the Senate may be our Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps. In the past, legislators in both parties understood that helping our least fortunate wasn’t just the right thing to do morally — it was good economic policy that strengthened the market for America’s farmers. The House version of the farm bill would cut the SNAP program by $40 billion, while the Senate cuts SNAP by $4 billion.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 45 percent of SNAP participants are under the age of 18 and over 80 percent of SNAP households have gross incomes below the poverty line. These are our neighbors: over 19,000 Frederick County residents receive nutritional benefits. The program is far from perfect and needs reform, but for the reasons above, I’m opposed to the substantial cuts favored by the House. They’re wrong in a vacuum and misguided as a way of holding up the farm bill, which hurts Maryland farmers’ ability to compete globally.

It hasn’t always been this way. The last farm bill, passed in 2008, sailed through the House by a 316-108 vote. That bill didn’t politicize the SNAP program. Instead it focused on the original goal: helping our farmers.

As we approach the prospect of doing serious damage to our economy and harming real people, we have to find a solution. We should return to the original spirit of the farm bill, which served our country well for generations. The time for ideological grandstanding is over.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Washington, describing agriculture as “our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.” I hope that spirit animates us this month, lest we deliver a bitter harvest to the American people.

U.S. Rep. John K. Delaney

represents Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.