Another week has gone by with little action on a new Farm Bill or progress in filling key positions at USDA. This week, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said he hopes for House passage of the Bill by the end of March. Conaway says that timetable would leave plenty of time to work out differences with the Senate version of the bill and ensure new legislation is finalized before the farm bill expires at the end of September. Conaway does not expect the Senate to have a version of the bill ready next month.
Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly maintains the Senate is on track to write a new Bill, “I am optimistic we are on track to write a new Farm Bill. It is not politics but rather how can we put the best Farm Bill together for the country.” Donnelly told HAT he will fight hard for a good Farm Bill and to preserve the RFS.
There has also been no action this week on approving Bill Northey as Under Secretary of Agriculture, the person who will be in charge of administering the new Farm Bill when it is passed. On Wednesday, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley tried to advance the nomination only to be blocked again by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Grassley sought unanimous consent from his Senate colleagues on the chamber floor; however, Cruz objected, further delaying Northey’s confirmation. Cruz has blocked the vote to confirm Northey as the USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services since October of last year, wanting to reach a deal on biofuel credit prices under the Renewable Fuel Standard. On the Senate floor, Grassley stated, “Taking a nominee hostage to try and force an ill-conceived policy change is only going to cause more problems for this body in the future.” Ranking Senate Agriculture Committee Democrat Debbie Stabenow also called for the nomination to move forward. Stabenow said, “It’s important to note that Mr. Northey’s leadership is needed now on a number of issues, including disaster recovery for our farmers in the aftermath of hurricanes, wildfire, and drought.”
Ted McKinney, Under Secretary for Trade, said the situation is getting desperate, “We need Bill to be confirmed; the situation with the Farm Bill is getting very interesting.” McKinney said he has added the Northey situation to his prayer list, hoping for some divine intervention. Many farm groups feel it will take an act of God to get Northey confirmed.