U.S. House passes split Farm Bill

Rep. Bill Owens visiting a dairy farm. Photo: Rep.Owens facebook page

Rep. Bill Owens visiting a dairy farm. Photo: Rep.Owens facebook page

I blogged yesterday about the possibility that the U.S. House might consider a Farm Bill in which the Food Stamps program (SNAP) was separated out from the agriculture portion of the bill. Now a version of the Farm Bill without SNAP has passed the house by a margin of 216-208, mostly along party lines (here’s NPR’s post on its breaking news blog The Two-Way) I won’t rehash what we’ve said before, but the two programs have long been joined as a bit of a bargain between rural legislators wanting farm assistance, and generally urban legislators wanting food aid for hungry constituents (much more in yesterday’s post, linked above.)

The Senate passed a different version of the bill, and CNN is reporting that the next step would be a joint conference committee where the House and Senate would hammer out the details on the two very different bills.

It’s not clear whether that will happen, though, and the White House has threatened to veto the House version of the bill (the plan is to vote on a separate bill extending SNAP benefits at some later time.)

North Country congressman Bill Owens (D.–Plattsburgh) voted against the bill in the House, and his office has sent the following press release (emphasis in original):

Owens Opposes Split Farm Bill, Repeal of Permanent Law

Split Bill Breaks Decades of Bipartisan Compromise, Provides No Certainty to Farmers Now or in the Future.

WASHINGTON—Today, Congressman Bill Owens voted against H.R. 2642, a modified version of the Farm Bill introduced last night.  The bill passed by a vote of 216-208.

“Farmers who were counting on Congress to give them five years of certainty will not find it in this bill now or in the future,” Owens said. “The bill House Leadership brought to the floor today breaks with decades of bipartisan compromise and a longstanding alliance between the farm and nutrition communities that benefits all Americans.

More than 530 groups representing the farm, conservation, credit, rural development and forestry industries from across the nation urged Speaker of the House John Boehner to keep the 2013 Farm Bill intact. House leadership instead chose to ignore the pleas of those most affected by this critically important legislation and removed the nutrition title from the bill, making it nearly impossible to conference with the Senate on a comprehensive reauthorization of farm and nutrition programs.

H.R. 2642 also contains a provision repealing permanent 1949 farm law, which is normally suspended for the life of a new Farm Bill. This suspension is the policy mechanism that forces both parties to the table to negotiate on the Farm Bill every five years. This provision was not included in the bipartisan bills reported out of either the House or Senate Agriculture Committees. The repeal was added last night and its full ramifications are unknown at this point.

Owens expressed concern about the repeal of the permanent law. “As a practical matter, the threat of reverting to permanent law seems to be the only thing left to force Congress to reauthorize farm programs,” Owens said. “Dividing the Farm Bill into two parts sets a dangerous precedent. This legislation is too important for farmers, New York’s economy, consumers, and the millions of vulnerable seniors, children, and veterans who rely on the SNAP program. They deserve a comprehensive solution, which is long overdue.”

Owens has repeatedly called for both parties to compromise on the Farm Bill and has supported reasonable cuts to the SNAP program while continuing to provide certainty for New York’s agriculture industry.

We’ll have more on this story as it develops. For more on the Farm Bill, food and agriculture, see NCPR’s food and farming blog, The Dirt.

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13 Comments on “U.S. House passes split Farm Bill”

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  1. Peter Hahn says:

    The republicans evidently think this is a victory. They finally got most of them to vote for something.

  2. Two Cents says:

    aaah, the famous “joint conference committee” ploy……

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    Yeah – they still have to actually pass some legislation.

  4. Paul says:

    I like Bill Owens but I don’t understand why this “alliance” is necessary? When you put too many things together nothing gets done. Especially in Washington these days. Gotta go with the KISS principle with this group of politicians.

  5. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – this isnt rocket science – it is politics. The argument (see the article above and every other discussion) is that that urban liberals like food stamps and rural politicians of both stripes like the farm subsidies. Together they have a majority, separately they dont. Without the food stamps, the farm bill wont pass both houses of congress and the president wont sign it. Without the farm subsidies, there arent enough votes for food stamps.

  6. Paul says:

    Then I guess neither one should pass. Then find the stuff on each side that has support and pass that stuff. Or keep spinning our wheels.

  7. Peter Hahn says:

    Most people think both should pass together.

  8. dave says:

    I’m with Paul on this one.

    It seems that legislative ideas should be passing on their own merits. If idea A can not get a majority to vote for it, and idea B can not get a majority to vote for it… should those ideas really be passing?

    I recognize that this is the hard reality of our political system… but combing two unpopular legislative ideas in order to pass them both strikes me as bad governance. It also seems like a way to subvert what a lot of people would consider a true democratic process.

    Maybe this is how we’ve ended up with what most people seem to agree are god awful farming policies over the years.

  9. Peter Hahn says:

    Dave – a majority of members of congress think that both should pass together. Just a majority of Repubican members of congress do not.

    If neither pass, you end up with a lot of people worse off than they were. People all over the country. Some of those people are small business owners – farmers. Some are big business owners. And – a whole industry will be in trouble.

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    80% of the country lives in the metropolitan areas. Why should they vote to spend a lot of their tax-payer money to support big businesses (agribiz) run by a few people in the fly-over states?

  11. dave says:

    “a majority of members of congress think that both should pass together. Just a majority of Repubican members of congress do not.”

    If a majority of members of congress really thought that way, they would have voted on the combined bill and it would have passed. But it didn’t.

    “80% of the country lives in the metropolitan areas. Why should they vote to spend a lot of their tax-payer money to support big businesses (agribiz) run by a few people in the fly-over states?”

    I think that is the point. If there is no reason for people to vote to spend their tax dollars to support some agribusiness in another part of the country… then why are we gaming the system to get them to do so? If their is a compelling reason for them to vote that way, then the case should be made and people will vote for it. If there isn’t much of a case to be made… then people will not vote for it.

    That is an example of the system working as it should, in my opinion.

    This quid pro quo approach to passing legislation is not one that produces the best results. Instead of passing good bills that a majority of our representatives can agree are beneficial to Americans, we end up combining a bunch of bad bills that benefit only certain minority interests.

  12. mervel says:

    Farm policy certainly has problems. But I would contend it actually is one of the most successful regulatory/subsidy regimes we have. US farm production is still one of the largest industries in the US and the US is still one of the most efficient producers of food in the world. It is part of our national security to have true food security.

    I think where it has gone wrong is the rewarding of quantity over quality and the subsidization of non-food agricultural production and the rewarding of large scale production of food that is essentially losing much of its nutritional value, being utilized as ethonal or as high fructose corn syrup etc.

    I like the combining of food stamps and farm policy. It is what our legislative process does well, we bring together two groups that may not always agree but both have programs that work and are needed. What splitting these up mean is they can now cut food stamps more easily.

    Farming is still critically important to the US economy.

  13. Peter Hahn says:

    Federal highways in the Pacific Northwest dont benefit people living in Georgia

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