The U.S. Senate failed to pass a new farm bill in November, putting in limbo the legislation Bay advocates hoped would reap hundreds of millions of dollars for the Chesapeake cleanup.
Politically popular, the bill stalled in a dispute between the parties over unrelated amendments that Republicans wanted to add. Democrats failed to get the 60 votes they needed to cut off debate on the measure. The final vote was 55-42.
It was unclear whether the Senate, with a backlog of other legislation, would be able to take up the measure before next year, although Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he hoped to find additional support and have another vote in early December.
The Senate bill includes a new program that targets $165 million over five years to help farmers in the Bay watershed install conservation practices. It also ramps up funding for other nationwide conservation programs for which the region's farmers would be eligible.
A bill approved by the House in July would bring an estimated $100 million a year in new money to help Chesapeake watershed farmers control nutrient and sediment pollution.
Differences between the two versions would have to be worked out in a conference committee before the bill is sent back to each chamber for final approval. None of that can happen until the Senate approves its version.
"Allowing this gridlock to continue and failing to pass a new farm bill jeopardizes up to $500 million in new conservation funding for the region," said Doug Siglin, federal affairs director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Our waterways and the Chesapeake Bay are a national treasure, and CBF is calling on the region's Senate delegation to work together to move the Farm Bill forward."
In the Senate debate, Democrats blamed Republicans for bogging down the debate by offering amendments dealing with the alternative minimum tax, immigration and other non-agricultural issues. Republicans blamed Democrats for attempting to limit the amendments.
Congress generally approves a farm bill every five years that establishes funding levels for a host of agricultural programs, from food stamps to bioenergy to rural development. The last farm bill was passed in 2002 and expired in September, but Congress temporarily extended its provisions while debate continued on the new version.