Events of September 11 put everything on hold

No one can see into the future, but I suspect that, for many of us, our lives will be forever divided between what happened before and after Sept. 11, 2001.

Before that day, the eyes of most members of the agricultural community were focused on whether the U.S. House of Representatives would pass the House Ag Committee's Farm Security Act of 2001 on Sept. 13 and 14.

Instead, House leaders found themselves drafting language that would authorize President Bush to do whatever necessary to punish those responsible for the worst attack on American soil in its history.

“Before Tuesday, we were concerned about the budget and where we were going to get the money for the new farm bill,” said Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark. “The event on Sept. 11 has introduced far more chaos into the picture than any of us could have ever anticipated.”

Expressing the feelings of many in Congress, Berry said, “I think that right now we're going to have to stop and let Congress and the administration re-group and figure out what we do from here.”

Agreeing there was little doubt that the farm bill would be delayed, the congressman said: “This has totally destroyed any agenda that we had. Now, we have to make decisions about how to respond to this unbelievable situation that has occurred in New York City and Washington.”

While some farmers have said the farm bill seemed much less important to them than it did a few days ago, Berry did not agree.

“It does matter,” he said. “This is a national security issue. I would hate to think where we would be if we couldn't grow all the food we need. We would not be able to deal with this crisis the way we may want.”

Berry said a timetable would be difficult to predict. “We know we probably won't be able to do a farm bill in October and November like we thought,” he noted.

Then, there's the budget. “We already knew we were going to have to spend more money on the air traffic system before this happened,” said Berry, a member of the House Transportation Committee. “We clearly have to revamp the security system and that's just the beginning of it.”

Toward the end of the tumultuous week, a Senate staff member quietly acknowledged that work was progressing on a farm bill in the Agriculture Committee. He said it would focus on counter-cyclical payments, conservation provisions and competition-enhancing proposals. But he also agreed that little would be done on a farm bill until Congress determines how to help the nation recover from the events of Sept. 11.

The Senate must still pass an agricultural appropriations bill along with other spending measures for fiscal year 2002. With the beginning of the new fiscal year only a few days, most expect Congress to pass a series of continuing resolutions to keep the government operating.

That could also give farm organizations time to prepare the groundwork for new disaster legislation that will be called for because of the continuing drop in prices and weather problems that have struck some parts of the country.

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