Battles over SNAP, subsidies sink farm bill in the House
by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on June 20 rejected by a vote of 234 to 195 the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. Democrats overwhelmingly (172 to 24) voted against the farm bill, primarily because it would have cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $20.5 billion over 10 years. Democrats also were angered by work requirements and other restrictions relating to SNAP contained in amendments adopted on the floor before the final vote on the bill.
Democrats were joined in opposition to the bill by 62 Republican members of the House, many of whom voted no because they felt the legislation cut too little from nutrition and/or farm support programs.
The rejection of the farm bill seemed to scuttle plans to negotiate a common bill with the Senate that could be sent to the president for his signature before the congressional August recess. The Senate passed its version of the farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, on June 10. The current farm act, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, expires on Sept. 30, 2013. It already was extended once when the House leadership last year failed to bring the farm bill approved by the House Committee on Agriculture to the floor.
“On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. “I’m obviously disappointed, but the reforms in HR 1947 — $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 — are so important that we must continue to pursue them. We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need.”
Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member on the agriculture committee, said, “The farm bill failed to pass the House today because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party. From day one I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together. Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law.
“This flies in the face of nearly four years of bipartisan work done by the agriculture committee. I’ll continue to do everything I can to get a farm bill passed, but I have a hard time seeing where we go from here.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, voted against the bill because of its cuts to SNAP.
“The farm bill is a safety net for American farmers and families,” DeLauro said. “In 2008, I was proud to support a bipartisan farm bill. Unfortunately, this was not the case today. The farm bill before the House of Representatives would have harmed both Connecticut dairy farmers and families relying on food stamps. I hope Congress can now work across party lines to produce a balanced farm bill that supports both farmers and critical anti-hunger efforts.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, who voted against the bill, said, “While there were some strong, positive ag and rural policies in the bill, I could not vote for a bill that locks in the massive expansion of the food stamp program and spends nearly 80 cents of every dollar on food stamps.
“Three months ago, nearly every Republican voted for the House Republican Budget that reduces the massive food stamp program by $135 billion. I could not vote for a bill that authorizes a reform of only $20 billion. That’s only 15 percent of the reduction the House Republican leadership promised.”
Huelskamp added, “There’s a clear path to farm bill passage: We must target food stamps to those who need it and transform the program through work requirements.”
Rep. Ron Kind, Republican of Wisconsin, also voted against the bill, but not because of the nutrition title.
“This farm bill failed because it didn’t include the type of reform that I and others were pushing for to make the bill more fiscally responsible and more responsive to the needs of family farmers,” Kind said. “I represent one of the largest agricultural districts in the country, and like many farmers in Wisconsin, I know that many of our agriculture programs just aren’t working. I was optimistic that this Congress, filled with members who like to talk about fiscal responsibility and reform, would be able to produce a bill that delivers real reform for taxpayers and farmers alike. Unfortunately, the final bill wasn’t nearly strong enough for me to support.”
Kind pointed to the proposed crop insurance subsidies he asserted were wasteful.
“If the late Sen. Bill Proxmire were still giving out his famous Golden Fleece Awards, our current crop insurance subsidies would be a sure winner,” he said. “The federal government guarantees a 14 percent profit for insurance companies, with virtually no risk to the companies, while paying 100 percent of administrative and operating expenses for issuing the policies. If that’s not a Golden Fleece winner, then I don’t know what is.
“Today, we voted down a flawed bill that was bad for farmers and bad for taxpayers. Moving forward, I will continue my efforts to create a more equitable safety net for family farmers, reform outdated agriculture policies, and protect American taxpayers from funding wasteful subsidy payments.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said, “Twice the Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan farm bill that reforms farm programs, ends direct payments, cuts spending, and creates American agriculture jobs. The House needs to find a way to get a five-year farm bill done. The Speaker needs to work in a bipartisan way and present a bill that Democrats and Republicans can support. He could start by bringing the Senate bill to the floor for a vote.”