Former USDA Undersecretary Optimistic About Farm Bill PassageTue, 20 Aug 2013 17:44:42 CDT
As former Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the George W. Bush era and later as a lobbyist with the National Corn Growers and the National Wheat Growers, Bruce Knight is no stranger to farm bill battles. He spoke recently to the International Alumni Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City. He also spoke at length with Radio Oklahoma Network's Ron Hays about the war currently being waged in Congress over the 2013 farm bill. (You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)
"This is unlike any farm bill process I've ever been through: ine step forward and two steps back. I'm afraid it's going to get eclipsed now in the larger deficit and the next fiscal cliff debate that's got to come to a head this fall. But in that context I think they could close it out. And I remain optimistic-not by the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, but by the end of the calendar year of being able to have completion of the farm bill."
A wide chasm still separates the Democratically-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House on the farm issue. Pundits and politicians alike are scratching their heads over the wisdom of splitting the nutrition title from the 11 other titles in the legislation.
Knight says the Republicans put SNAP funding on the table, in a strategic move to bring the issue front and center for discussion.
"If we can trim commodity spending, we can also trim SNAP and nutrition program spending."
While he's optimistic about the chances for passing a farm bill, he said it won't be passed without a fight.
"This is the most partisan environment that I've witnessed and I think this is my sixth farm bill to be working on. And I think part of it is we really didn't have the discussion and debate of food stamps and SNAP spending on nutrition in the committee and in the committee process. This is partially the fault of the food stamp lobby. And, yes, there really is a food stamp lobby. There is a large number of folks that lobby for that program. They have been so resistant to reform and change that they that successfully argued for discussion on these things and therefore, some of that that should appear in a cooler environment in the committee, wound up on the floor of the House of Representatives."
Knight says there is a growing rift between Northern and Southern interests that needs to be addressed.
"For the folks that are involved in that skirmish, these are crucial, tough, big decisions. But if you back off just a little bit, you can probably see that 15 minutes in the conference should be able to resolve those challenges. These are not issues that need to prevent the closure of the farm bill. We've got to stop looking at the farm bill as a bucket of scarce resources that we've got to fight for every last scrap."
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