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Friday, Jul 06 2012 11:03 PM

Let's pass this farm bill, Congressman

By The Bakersfield Californian

When Rep. Kevin McCarthy appeared before The Californian's editorial board several months ago, he lamented the fact that Congress probably wouldn't pass any significant legislation this session due to the polarity that dominates politics these days.

It may not be groundbreaking legislation, but the farm bill is important not only to growers across the country and the millions of poor Americans who receive food assistance but also to Kern's own $5 billion agriculture industry. And right now passage of a new five-year farm bill depends on the House's willingness to take action. Surely McCarthy could use his leadership position in the House to move things along.

A draft farm bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, the same day House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the Republican-led House will vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that while GOP leaders in the House have not ruled out action on a farm bill, they want to devote most of their time to jobs and regulatory bills that contrast with Obama administration policies, and other 2013 spending bills. House leaders must get their priorities straight on this one and find time to vote on the farm bill before the August recess.

The farm bill covers everything from farm programs to trade and conservation issues, and the bulk of its spending -- about 80 percent -- funds the nation's food stamp programs. The Senate's recently passed version of the farm bill ends a long and controversial practice of making direct payments to farmers mainly in the Midwest and the South, regardless of whether they plant crops. It preserves gains included in the current farm bill for speciality crops like the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the Central Valley. It cuts food stamp funding by $4.5 million and reduces overall spending by about $23 billion over 10 years. The farm bill is never perfect, but this year's is looking better than most.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged the House last week to pass a farm bill, saying that farmers need the certainty of a spending plan in order to make decisions about future production; it will also allow trade promotion and conservation programs to move forward.

The bottom line is there's no good reason for the House not to pass a farm bill. Politics should not get in the way of legislation that has so much bearing on the nation's food system. Congressman McCarthy, help get this bill passed.

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