Opinion: Pass the Farm Bill
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
From The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, Oct. 8, 2012:
Ready to pay $7 a gallon or more for milk? That may be what consumers face if Congress doesn't get down to business after the November election and pass a new farm bill or extend provisions of the old one.
The 2008 federal farm law expired on Oct. 1, and with it the Milk Income Loss Contract program. The program pays dairy farmers whenever the monthly price of milk falls below a certain level, bringing price stability to a volatile market.
Dairy farming runs counter to the usual supply-and-demand rules because cows can't be turned on and off like machines; no matter what, they must be housed and fed. When the price of milk drops, farmers are tempted to increase production to keep cash flow steady, aggravating the roller coaster effect. The MILC program is one way to even out the system.
The issue is important in Connecticut, where almost 150 dairy farms contribute $1 billion to the state's economy.
But MILC fell victim to the now-familiar quarreling in Congress. The Senate approved a new farm bill, but the House refused to take up the matter before adjourning — despite the fact that its own Agriculture Committee approved the bill.
One factor in the House's failure was the question of food stamps, which are administered by the Agriculture Department. Some Republicans argued that too much money was allotted to the food program, while some Democrats argued that the program should be given more funding. Such partisan bickering, with hardly a thought of compromise, doomed not only the farm bill but much other worthwhile legislation this year.
If Congress doesn't act before the end of the year, a law dating back to 1949 kicks in, triggering an outdated pricing system that would be the real stimulus for doubling the cost to consumers.
There is still time. When Congress returns to Washington on Nov. 13, members must either pass the 2012 farm bill — the preferable course — or at least extend the expired 2008 law.
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