After months of hearings in farm regions across the nation, Senate Democrats brought to the floor a new farm bill for the next five years that would have protected farmers from expected low commodity prices. Even though a trial Senate vote showed a solid majority favoring the plan – 51 Democrats, three Republicans and Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) – the Republicans prevented the Senate from a final vote by parliamentary trickery.

Republicans offered endless amendments to kill time, all of which were voted down. Three times Democrats attempted to end debate, which requires 60 votes, and failed. The farm bill can be returned to the Senate floor for further debate in January.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, “Today some Senate Republicans voted against farmers, against ranchers and against rural Americans. Their vote jeopardizes millions of dollars of assistance to farmers, which are available now and not likely to be available next year … They chose partisan politics over policy.”

Daschle said that the farm bill was vital because, while the American economy has fallen into a recession, the rural economy has been lagging behind for years.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the largest single-month drop in commodity prices in the 91 years since the department has been keeping track.

Daschle added that the bill reforms the present system by providing assistance to the producers who really need it, instead of lavishing the assistance on the largest operators.

It also provides an important income safety net that gives more support in tough years and less support in good years, a measure urged by the National Farmers Union (NFU).

The bill also initiates new and improved conservation programs. Last year, the NFU had organized meetings of farmers across the country and to lobby Congress and the Bush administration for a farm commodity price safety net and cash awards for good conservation practices.

The NFU national office issued a list of 45 Senators, all of them Republican, charging them with blocking the vote on this farm bill. “We were appalled by the actions of some of the Republican Senators who blocked progress toward the completion of the farm bill,” said NFU President Leland Swenson.

Similarly the president of the conservative American Farm Bureau Federation, Bob Stallman, a Texas Republican, expressed “profound disappointment and anger” over the blocking of the bill. He added that farmers and ranchers will “hold accountable those Senators who have kept the measure bottled up.”

Stallman added, “If we don”t get a final bill next year,” and subsidies needed to save farmers from bankruptcy are cut, “we”ll know who to blame.”

With farm commodity prices far below the actual cost of production, annual government subsidies for farmers, amounting to some $20 billion, have become a necessity if farmers are to remain as producers. They have reason to fear termination of these subsidies by Bush and Congress. It would drive half or more of remaining farmers off the land.

Pressure is needed to induce Congress to curb monopolized agribusiness, as President Franklin Roosevelt did with his non-recourse parity price law, which enabled farmers to get a fair price in the marketplace. In fact, the NFU has proposed legislation that would give farmers 80 percent higher prices for their commodities, forcing the giant agribusiness food corporations to pay the farmers a fair price and ending the need for massive taxpayer subsidies.