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VFTH: Government shutdown, debt ceiling, and the Farm Bill.

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Legislative Director (View From The Hill Blog 10/2/13)

  OCTOBER 4, 2013 --


As most of you know by now, the federal government shutdown at midnight on September 30th…or at least partially shutdown. All non-essential workers in DC were told to stay home; hundreds of thousands of people. Basically, Republicans and Democrats have been playing a giant game of chicken and both drove off the side of the road last night, with no real “winner.” Now it’s a waiting game to see who will crack first. The Senate made it clear this morning that they are not interested in a conference with the House, which seems unreasonable except that everything the House proposes is extreme and controversial. Bottom line: they’re both wrong…and although two wrongs don’t make a right, they do make for some interesting news.

The last government shutdown occurred in 1995-1996 during the Clinton Administration and lasted for 26 days. At the time, Republicans held both chambers of Congress. Republicans didn’t come out looking very good last time, and I don’t believe they will come out looking good this time.

In addition, although it hasn’t gotten a lot of press, the Farm Bill extension also expired yesterday. Last year, instead of passing a full five-year Farm Bill, Congress instead passed an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which expired September 30th. However, most of the commodities programs are funded through December 31st, making that the real deadline for getting a new Farm Bill. Some conservation, nutrition and export programs came to a screeching halt at the end of September, but for the most part the average person shouldn’t notice a difference.

If they don’t pass a Farm Bill by December 31st, that’s a much different story. At that point, all farm policy in the U.S. will revert back to the original Farm Bill laws from 1938 and 1949. To put that in perspective, the price of milk would probably quadruple, putting a gallon of milk around $16. I don’t have to tell you how terrible that will be for the American public.

So what happens now? Of course, I could never say for sure but here’s my prediction on how all of this will end. Please take this with a grain of salt. I’m guessing that the shutdown is going to last another couple of weeks until Congress has to deal with the debt ceiling issue. The government will “officially” be out of money on October 17th (although I would argue that they were out of money $16 trillion ago) so the debt ceiling must be raised in order for the government to continue paying its many bills. My guess is that we’re going to get one giant package deal, encompassing another continuing resolution to refund the government, raise the debt ceiling, get another Farm Bill extension (not ideal), and probably a few other things. They’ll probably do this in the next two weeks.

Once that package deal goes through, then things will return to their normal, hostile, unproductive state. Most likely, although not definitely, the nonessential workers who were told to stay home will be reimbursed for lost time. They do not technically have to be reimbursed, but that’s what happened in 1996. The Washington ag community will be in an uproar over another Farm Bill extension (myself included) and we will have to continue this battle into 2014. Like I said- that’s just my prediction. Anything could happen and nothing would shock me.

For now, we’re all playing the waiting game to see where things will land. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

-Grace Boatright
National Grange Legislative Director

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