Farm bill one step closer after nutrition bill vote

Sep 23, 2013

Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act. The nutrition-only portion of the House’s farm bill includes the plan to cut the food stamp program by $39 billion over 10 years, according to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).

The vote came late Thursday afternoon to quick fanfare, both positive and negative.

“We are pleased that the House is one step closer towards passage of the farm bill and we encourage the House to appoint conferees to work out the differences between the House and Senate bills,” said Scott George, President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), in an announcement mere minutes after the vote was announced.

“This is not a proud day for the House of Representatives,” said U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D- ND), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in an announcement which came on the heels of NCBA’s.

“Not only did they vote to kick nearly four million people off nutrition assistance—including children, seniors, veterans, and disabled Americans. But they have seriously jeopardized the passage of a long-term farm bill that would provide certainty to North Dakota farmers and ranchers. Senate Agriculture Committee members of both parties have already suggested this effort is a non-starter.”

The prospect of full agreement between both houses of Congress on the farm bill is not good, according to many. The current farm bill is set to expire on Sept. 30. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey told Radio Iowa that he is starting to lose confidence that Congress will pass a new one before the deadline.

“I was hopeful, I guess I’m still hopeful, but I do not have very high expectations that we’ll get the farm bill done yet. We’re running out of days,” Northey says.

The vast differences between the Senate and the House farm bills regarding the SNAP program budget cuts are behind a lot of this lack of confidence. The Senate farm bill provides only $4 billion in cuts, while the House’s version proposed almost 10 times that level. Jerry Hagstrom, DTN Political Correspondent, however, noted the deep House cuts are not expected to survive the conference.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) is scheduled to manage the nutrition bill, although the final version was written in Cantor’s office. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) is expected to manage the bill on the floor for House Democrats. He also noted the bill would increase funding for food banks.

During the Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday preceding the vote, Lucas said he did not think Cantor and his group were “malicious” when they wrote the “common sense” provisions added to the bill. But Lucas did not sound enthusiastic about the measure.

“I will admit to you in all sincerity that this has been an unusual process,” said Lucas, speaking of the failed attempt to pass a comprehensive farm bill, the passage of the farm-program-only farm bill and now the separate nutrition bill. Lucas added he hopes the passage of the nutrition bill will lead to passage of a five-year farm bill.

House Rules Committee ranking member Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said, “I deeply regret” the bill that was brought up as a way to move the farm bill to conference.

Slaughter noted the White House has said President Barack Obama’s senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill.

According to DTN’s Washington Insider, in a few years, the nutrition-only bill would permanently decouple the agriculture-only titles from the former nutrition title of the old farm bill. And it would do this by specifying different authorization schedules for the two.

The House nutrition bill has been written in such a way that its authorization would terminate in three years unless Congress reauthorizes it. Meanwhile, the two pending bills—the House-passed agriculture-only bill and the Senate-passed agriculture and nutrition bill— both provide for five-year authorizations.

The House Republican proposal would assure that it will be at least 15 years before Congress would have the opportunity to consider both farm and nutrition provisions in the same year. There is also the possibility decoupling the nutrition programs and considering them alone in three years will make it easier for Republicans to cut their funding by more than the $4 billion-per-year specified in the measure.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said the House Republican approach “makes no sense” and is pledging to use the upcoming House-Senate conference committee to reunite subsidies for farmers and food aid for the poor in the same piece of legislation. She said she would “absolutely” reject in conference a shorter authorization cycle for the nutrition programs.

The dissimilar reauthorization schedules are but one example of a number of farm bill provisions that divide the Republican-dominated House from the Democratic-majority Senate, making passage of a bill by the Sept. 30 deadline difficult.

The following is a statement issued by the White House Thursday morning.

“The administration strongly opposes H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013. The bill would result in millions of Americans losing access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is one of our nation’s strongest defenses against hunger and poverty. These cuts would affect a broad array of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work. Slashing SNAP also weakens our nation’s farm and rural economies.

“Congress should approach the reauthorization of the farm bill in a comprehensive manner. ... If the president were presented with H.R. 3102, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor