Rep. John Garamendi is wading into the mess that is the 2012 farm bill.
Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, has resigned his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee and was expected on Wednesday to join the House Agriculture Committee in order to play a role in ongoing negotiations over the farm bill.
“I didn’t enter Congress to twiddle my thumbs and sit quietly in the background. I must be where the needs of my district are and that’s in the final negotiations for the five-year farm bill,” Garamendi said in a news release.
The Senate passed a 10-year, $969 billion farm bill in June. It includes $23 billion in savings over a decade. The House Agriculture Committee has offered up a bill than would trim $35 billion, but the full House was stymied by its proposed $16 billion in cuts over five years to food stamp and nutrition programs.
Meanwhile, the 2008 farm bill lapsed on Oct. 1, placing agriculture under a law passed in 1949.
Food stamps (funded through March) and crop insurance remain up and running, but several other programs — including some related to conservation, organic agriculture, specialty crop research and outreach programs for beginning and disadvantaged farmers and ranchers — are on hold until Congress acts.
“Passing a good farm bill is very important to the family farmers in my district, and the nutrition assistance in the farm bill provides vital help to struggling families throughout California,” Garamendi said. “As a farmer and rancher, I know we need to get this done, and I will work around the clock to make sure California specialty crops and commodity programs are protected.”
That clock is ticking. Among the other possible consequences of inaction: milk prices could double on Jan. 1, when the dairy price support program expires.
After a recent talk at UC Davis, California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross sounded optimistic notes about the contents of the competing bills. Both contain similar amounts of funding for marketing, specialty crops and research, among the chief concerns for the state’s $43.5 billion ag industry.
“My biggest concern is that we are unsuccessful in getting them to address the farm bill in the lame-duck session, just extending it puts it into a less friendly economic environment,” she said. “Right now, they could pass this farm bill and at a minimum have $23 billion in savings — maybe have as much as $33 billion in savings. If they start over, everything will just get cut more.
“Right now, they could contribute to solving this fiscal cliff problem. I’m just not sure there’s enough time. Hopefully, calmer minds are prevailing.”
Ross previously served as chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The Obama administration has called for $35 billion in cuts to the farm bill.
She expressed frustration over the House plan to tighten eligibility requirements for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. More than 4 million Californians — including 16,237 Yolo County residents — turned to that federal assistance in September, the most recent month for which figures are available.
“Everyone’s so critical about 46 million Americans who are on SNAP,” she said. “Well, that’s because of the economy. When people get jobs and the economy comes back, they don’t stay on SNAP. It’s a short-term program. But it’s become a target, and now that’s where the standoff is.”
Garamendi remains a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Committee assignments for the next Congress have not yet been made.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden