With the U. S. House of Representatives expected to go into recess this afternoon, some are pointing to what actions it hasn’t taken more than what it has done. Montana’s U. S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are looking closely at the new Farm Bill.
"Three months ago, the Senate came together and passed a full, five-year Farm Bill, ” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said on the floor of the Senate Wednesday. “ We didn't kick the can down the road. We passed a bipartisan bill that provides the certainty America's farmers and ranchers need to continue supporting rural jobs and putting food on our tables. So, there is absolutely no excuse for Congress to adjourn without sending this bill to the president's desk to be signed into law. Still, because the House refuses to even bring this bill up for a vote, it looks like that is exactly what's going to happen. It's shameful."
The Farm Bill, which sets federal agricultural programs — although the majority of spending from the bill actually goes to food programs such school lunches and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, formerly known as food stamps — is set to expire Sept. 30. The House Agriculture Committee passed its own version of the bill 35-11 July 11.
The Republican leadership of the House has not scheduled a vote on that bill, with some speculating the leadership is avoiding a controversial debate on cutting food programs like SNAP in the middle of the election cycle.
Lawmakers and ag producers have said now — with the nation and much of Montana in the middle of a severe drought — it is more important than ever for farmers and ranchers to know what programs, and what disaster assistance, will be available.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has called for debate and a vote on the bill for months. He signed a petition last week that would have required the bill to be brought to the floor, but its supporters could not gather enough signatures.
“The Farm Bill is far too important for too many Montanans to let election year politics get in the way of doing the right thing, ” Rehberg said in a release last week.
“While I know this is going to put a burr under the saddle of Republican leadership, I’m not here to fight for the party, I’m here to fight for Montana. Agriculture is our top industry, and the Farm Bill is a critical safety net that can’t wait. Farmers are already facing the full return of the Death Tax, onerous regulatory expansion, drought and fires. They shouldn’t have to worry about legislative gridlock as well. ”
But the re-election campaign of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., for whose seat Rehberg is running, takes a different tack.
Tester’s campaign Thursday cited Rehberg’s call for the House to stay in session until the Farm Bill is passed — which apparently will not happen.
“Does that mean Lobbyist Dennis Rehberg will be staying in Washington until he gets the job done, or will he return to Montana to try and explain why he neglected to be a leader in Congress? ” said Tester spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff. “Either way, Congressman Rehberg gave us nothing but lip service while failing to put Montana first. ”
“The only holdup of the Farm Bill is the U. S. House, where we are still waiting for someone to act responsibly and start serving Montanans, ” Tester said in a release last week. “So far, all we’ve gotten is lip service. ”
Rehberg spokesman Jed Link turned the tables, pointing to the Senate failing to pass anything to keep the inheritance tax from reverting to its rate of 55 percent on the value of estates above $1 million. The average value of ag operations in Montana is $1.6 million, Link said.
The House included reducing estate taxes in its tax reform bill, which extending the Bush-era tax breaks including for people making more than $200,000 as individuals and $250,000 for families.
The Senate version, which allowed the top-end tax breaks to expire while providing breaks for middle- and low-income individuals, did not address inheritance taxes.
Tester, shortly after he voted for that bill, co-sponsored with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a bill by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Wis., that would extend current gift and inheritance tax rates for a year. That bill has not yet been taken up by committee.