House passes split farm bill

Jul 15, 2013

In a last-minute Thursday afternoon vote, the House of Representatives passed the split farmonly farm bill. The vote was a razor-thin 216 to 208 divide in favor of it. The bill-splitting occurred only the evening before and took out the supplemental food and nutrition elements from H.R. 2642 and kept the farm- and ag-related content. The bill passed in the face of a threatened White House veto.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George, a beef and dairy producer from Cody, WY, praised the House and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-OK, for the move.

“First, we thank House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas of Oklahoma who, in this very difficult environment, produced a farm bill that passed out of the House and continues the process toward providing farmers and ranchers the certainty they need. Passage of a 2013 Farm Bill is the top priority for NCBA, and today the House took the unprecedented step in separating the nutrition title from the farm bill, and passing a bill that only encompasses agriculture.

“This step is a major departure from the usual business of agricultural policy, but I am pleased that cattlemen and women are one step closer toward final legislation which not only provides certainty for producers, but also incorporates priorities important to the cattle industry.”

House leaders became convinced Wednesday they had sufficient votes to pass a farm-only version of the legislation. The split bill sidestepped 80 percent of the spending that is now dedicated to nutrition programs.

Without roughly $750 billion in spending for nutrition programs over 10 years, the farm-only bill would cost about $195 billion. With congressional budget scoring that factors in sequester savings, the bill would cost about $19 billion less over 10 years than the projected cost of current programs.

The House-passed split bill keeps the same commodity, conservation, crop insurance and rural development provisions that were developed by the House Agriculture Committee and amended on the floor before the full farm bill failed to pass June 20. A key difference, however, is that the legislation also repeals the 1938 and 1949 permanent farm law. The new Title I would become permanent law.

“We are very pleased that this legislation includes disaster programs for our producers, which will extend disaster assistance for five years and retroactively covers losses in 2012 and 2013,” said George.

“There are also important amendments included in the legislation which rein in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These amendments provide regulatory relief to cattle producers, prevent EPA from releasing producers’ personal information to third parties such as environmental activist groups, and prohibit EPA from regulating forest roads under the Clean Water Act.”

In a streaming video feed of the hearing, Lucas described his agreement to split the bill with the analogy that at this point, he would dance with whoever would dance with him. Rep. Doc Hastings, D-WA, had asked Lucas why the House could not move ahead with the full legislation.

“I would simply say to the gentleman that the farm bill portion of the farm bill achieved consensus first. The challenges I have within my own conference, let alone within the entire House, of achieving consensus, are even more complicated than the farm bill section of the farm bill, and this is an effort that continues in earnest, but it’s just not solvable in this short time frame.”

Even with the split farmonly bill, the level of consensus was almost perfectly along ideological lines. All told, all 216 yes votes came from House Republicans, while all the House Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R- KS, was one of those dissenting Republicans.

“I’m a ‘no’ until I know that a food stamp bill is coming to the floor,” he said in explanation of his position.

Other “no” Republicans were Reps. Justin Amash, MI, Paul Cook, CA, Ron DeSantis, FL, John Duncan, TN, Trent Franks, AZ, Phil Gingrey, GA, Walter Jones, NC, Frank LoBiondo, NJ, Tom McClintock, CA, Matt Salmon, AZ, and Mark Sanford, SC.

Splitting the bill

The decision to split the bill was a contentious one. As mentioned, the White House opposed the spilt and President Obama threatened to veto it if it reached him.

The administration issued a statement late Wednesday opposing the new farm bill, partially because the bill was only made available in the evening and the administration had not had time to fully review the text. This latter detail was also a complaint of many Democrats, who said the rapidity of the splitting and the GOP was violating its own rules on the timeframe for posting legislation to read before moving to a debate.

“It is apparent, though, that the bill does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms and does not invest in renewable energy, an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country,” the White House stated.

Criticism of the spilt also came on the point of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) exclusion.

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a cornerstone of our nation’s food assistance safety net, and should not be left behind as the rest of the farm bill advances,” the White House stated.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, MD, called splitting out SNAP and then not even debating it “a shameful abandonment of the most vulnerable in our country, including the 76 percent of SNAP-participating households that include a child, senior citizen, or person with a disability.

“Republicans know this is a bill to nowhere—even if they succeed in passing it through the House, the Senate will not consider a farm bill without nutrition assistance. This dead-on-arrival messaging bill only seeks to accomplish one objective: to make it appear that Republicans are moving forward with important legislation even while they continue to struggle at governing.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, explained his motivations briefly.

“My goal right now is to get the farm bill passed. We’ll get to those other issues later.”

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-IN, who supported the splitting of the bill, called it a step toward reform.

“By splitting the bill, we can give taxpayers an honest look at how Washington spends our money,” he said. “We’ve made progress by eliminating direct payments, but there’s more work ahead. Splitting the farm bill is the next logical step on the path to real reform, for farm policy and genuinely helping those who genuinely need help.”

Other conservative groups are mixed on the move. Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips thanked House Republicans for splitting the bill, but wondered why more wasn’t being done. Phillips called farm programs a version of corporate welfare.

“Even without food stamp spending, the proposed bill still costs taxpayers $195 billion for farm subsidies. Expenditures of this scale deserve proper scrutiny and a full amendment process. It would be hypocritical to oppose uncontrolled food stamp spending but support corporate welfare with no meaningful reforms. Splitting this bill is a good first step, but perpetuating the status quo is unacceptable.”

It is clear the barely-there passage of the farm-only farm bill is an ongoing issue. For now, however, the situation is one of continued effort and potential.

After again thanking House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson for their work on the bill, George vowed NCBA “will continue to work with the House and Senate conferees to ensure the final bill meets the priorities of America’s cattle industry.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor, with contribution from Chris Clayton, DTN