A few weeks ago, I visited with two farmers from Palo, Gary and Vicki Owens, to see how the relentless heat and drought conditions were affecting their struggling crops of corn and soybeans. Gary and Vicki told me how concerned they are that the lack of rain in July will doom their harvest this fall.
The drought is bad enough. But adding to the uncertainty is a hardening political stalemate in Congress over the 2012 Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, along with modern crop insurance programs, disaster relief, conservation programs, nutrition programs and more, unless a new bill is signed into law. Some disaster assistance programs have already expired.
And the hits keep coming. The House Agriculture Committee passed the Farm Bill more than three weeks ago in a bipartisan vote but leaders have continued to block the full House from voting on the bill. Then, last week, House leaders pulled a one-year Farm Bill extension, preventing a vote on that.
Despite members voting against adjournment, leaders sent Congress home for a monthlong recess on Thursday, leaving the Farm Bill unresolved.
What exactly is Congress taking a vacation from? Any Iowan who's worked knows that to get time off, you actually have to put time in. Congress certainly hasn't done much of anything this year. Farmers don't get a vacation from the drought, and Congress shouldn't get one either.
Political gridlock over the Farm Bill strikes me as incredibly childish. There are real folks back home hurting, but Congress can't get beyond petty feuds and personal differences.
There are members of both political parties who agree that producers need the financial stability and protections provided in the Farm Bill.
I think that if allowed to vote on the Farm Bill, a majority of the House would support it. It's the political games of leaders looking to score political points against their opponents that is standing in the way.
So, I've launched an effort that could short-circuit the political games. If a simple majority of representatives sign on to a petition I'm circulating, the Farm Bill must immediately come up for a vote before the House.
It's a drastic step and maybe a long shot, but we need to do everything we possibly can to help Iowa farmers through the worsening drought. Folks like Gary and Vicki Owens are depending on it.
Bruce Braley of Waterloo is Iowa's 1st District congressman. Comments: braley.house.gov/contact