Farmers' efforts provide strong start to new year
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 4:00 PM
WASHINGTON - Congress is hardly any more predictable than the weather, but the legislative forecast for early 2014 looks pretty good to farmers and ranchers. Just like a bumper crop though, there's a lot that's been done over the past 12 months to get a farm bill and waterways infrastructure legislation well on the way to the president's desk.
The Senate took the lead with both the Water Resources Development Act and the farm bill, passing those bills in May and June, respectively. The House caught up a few months later, but its late-fall passage of the measures set the conference wheels in motion a little too late to finish work before Congress' year-end adjournment. Lawmakers working on each of the bills are optimistic their measures will be enacted not too long after we ring in the new year.
Still, that these bills are as close as they are to being ready for the president's signature is proof of farmers' and ranchers' dedication to educating their congressional delegations and being satisfied with nothing less than action.
One of the best examples of that in 2013 was Farm Bureau's Bring the Heat campaign, through which Farm Bureau members made sure Congress was working through the August recess.
As part of this grassroots effort, farmers and ranchers spoke out at town hall meetings, had one-on-one conversations with lawmakers and their staff and made quite a few phone calls to get legislators fired up about finalizing the farm bill and moving waterways transportation legislation.
While the weather cooled down in September and October, farmers and ranchers refused to take the pressure off, yielding a House-passed farm bill and a House-passed Water Resources Reform and Development Act, putting both bills on the path to conference with the Senate.
On both the farm bill and the waterways legislation, Democrats and Republicans came together to get the job done. With the farm bill, the bipartisan effort was almost exclusively on the part of farm-state lawmakers, but members of both parties overwhelmingly supported the waterways legislation passed in each chamber. In fact, out of the more than 500 votes related to final passage of the legislation in the House and Senate, only 17 votes were against the bill.
Lawmakers realized farmers and ranchers were on to something: modernized waterways are key to helping buoy the economy.
Another big issue for farmers is immigration reform legislation that meets agriculture's labor needs.
The Senate in June passed a balanced, Farm Bureau-supported immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision. The House, on the other hand, stalled after committee approval of a series of immigration reform bills, each tackling a different aspect of reform.
Yet, farmers and ranchers pressed on. Immigration reform was not only a central part of the Bring the Heat campaign, but farmers and ranchers continued to rally around the issue, joining hundreds of business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and conservatives in meeting with members of Congress in October and making a compelling case for action.
"Considering how charged and complex the issue of immigration reform is, the chances of congressional action during this upcoming midterm election year are slim, but that does not minimize farmers' and ranchers' success in coming together to work with Senate lawmakers to draft and pass a bill that would meet all of agriculture's labor needs," noted Dale Moore, American Farm Bureau Federation executive director of public policy.
Despite the chilly winter temperatures that will have most of the U.S. shivering in early 2014, farmers and ranchers will be turning up the temperature on Congress, calling for action on immigration reform and many other important issues, such as tax reform, renewable fuels, the Clean Water Act and food safety.
Erin Anthony is the editor of FBNews, the American Farm Bureau Federation's official e-newsletter.