Farmers Frustrated as Congress Delays New Farm Bill
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
"Really frustrating out on the farm," Brandon Hunnicutt remarks.
Or put another way, "It's been a challenge."
Or yet again, "Getting a little frustrated."
No fewer than a half-dozen times in a matter of minutes, the central Nebraskan makes it clear how he feels about Congress.
"It's frustrating," he said. "It's been a frustrating challenge... still a frustration that there should be somebody that can get it done."
Aggravated, annoyed, bewildered, and yes, frustrated. Overshadowed by the looming fiscal cliff, America's farm bill expires when the clock strikes midnight.
Farmers like Hunnicutt are just trying to figure out what Congress is doing about it.
"Most of the time we've come to the conclusion they're not doing anything," he said.
Hunnicutt, Chairman of the Nebraska Corn Growers, is most disappointed with word Congress will extend the old farm bill instead of passing a new one, something he describes as "kicking the can down the road."
When he visited the Capitol last summer, congressional staffers had already written the farm bill twice. Now it appears they'll have to do it a third time, as they delay a new bill in favor of extending existing policy.
"And that's not doing us any good because they're not planning for the future and we'll have this fight again for the next ten months when it has to be done at the end of October," Hunnicutt said.
Farmers were willing to give up the politically unpopular direct payments.
With the fiscal cliff looming, they thought Congress, especially House Republicans would respond to their proposal for $25-35 billion in cuts.
Hunnicutt said, "It's not making any sense what's going on."
The conservative Hunnicutt places blame with Speaker John Boehner.
"He has no desire to work with ag, he seems to hate ag and hate the farm bill," this farmer said.
The move to extend the old policy appears to be fueled over concerns food prices, especially milk, could rise.
Hunnicutt said, "It's like staff finally woke up, 'oh bad things can happen come January 1.'"
Farmers are a small minority these days, but Hunnicutt tells Congress not to forget where their food comes from.
He said, "They just forget about us and it's important to make sure we have a safe, affordable food supply for the country and that's really what we're looking at providing."
And for the record, "It's become a frustration."
Hunnicutt pointed out a diverse range of farm groups with very different concerns have agreed to tens of billions in cuts.
If Congress is worried about cutting the budget, he can't understand why they'd pass up those cuts and extend what may be a more expensive program, at least for now.