Lead, follow or get out the way is an old saying that sums up what the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives needs to do on the farm bill.
In case you missed it, something amazing has happened during this time of hyper-partisanship in Washington. Under the leadership of Oklahoma's own Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and his Senate counterpart, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Democrats and Republicans have come together to craft policy designed to help address the challenges facing rural America over the next five years.
In June, senators from both parties voted 64-35 to move this important piece of legislation forward. The House Agriculture Committee soon followed suit under Lucas' leadership, passing a bill out of committee to the full house with a bipartisan vote of 35-11. While important differences exist between the versions of the bill, they're not so far apart that an agreement couldn't be reached with all this bipartisan support.
That's how legislation is supposed to work — both sides coming together, working out differences and reaching an agreement.
Unfortunately, things have hit a snag. As of this writing, House leadership has yet to schedule the farm bill for debate. The timing for this inaction couldn't be worse. If Congress fails to pass a new farm bill or extend the existing law by Sept. 30, the current law expires and the last permanent farm bill, which passed in 1949, takes effect. This would all happen at a time when the upper Midwest is facing a drought comparable to that experienced in Oklahoma and Texas last year and the southern Plains, never fully recovered from the dry conditions of 2011, are again slipping into extreme drought conditions.
Now isn't the time to stand on the sidelines on this issue. I understand that many have legitimate concerns with parts of both bills. The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts likes parts of the Senate version better than the House version, such as the Senate's language on the Conservation Stewardship Program. At the same time, we like some provisions in the House bill better than those passed by the Senate, such as the provisions in the House bill concerning the Upstream Flood Control Program.
These are differences, to be sure, but not so great that they can't be worked out if the bill can move forward. The bottom line is that folks of goodwill in Congress are working hard to make sure the needs of agriculture and rural America are addressed. They're reaching across party lines to do the work folks back home expect them to do.
House leadership needs to recognize this and bring the farm bill forward before we find out the consequences of inaction.
Pope is executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.