U.S. House passes Farm Bill but without food stamps

July 17, 2013

According to The New York Times, U.S. republicans muscled a pared-back agriculture bill through the House on July 11, stripping out the food stamp program to satisfy conservatives but losing what little democratic support the bill had when it failed last month. It was the first time food stamps had not been a part of the farm bill since 1973.

The 216-to-208 vote saved House Republican leaders from a repeat of the unexpected defeat of a broader version of the bill in June, but the future of agriculture policy remains uncertain. The food stamp program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was 80% of the original bill’s cost, and it remains the centerpiece of the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill.

Representative Frank D. Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he would try to draft a separate food stamp bill “as soon as I can achieve a consensus.” But conservatives remain determined to extract deep cuts to the program—cuts that members of both parties in the House and Senate have said they cannot support.

By splitting farm policy from food stamps, the House effectively ended the decades-old political marriage between urban interests concerned about nutrition and rural areas who depend on farm subsidies. Democrats denounced the bill as an attempt to make severe cuts in the food stamp program.

The 608-page bill keeps the changes that were in the version that failed last month, and amendments were not allowed. The bill would save about $20 billion by consolidating or cutting numerous farm subsidy programs, including $5 billion paid annually to farmers and landowners whether they plant crops or not.

The money saved from eliminating those payments would be directed into the $9 billion crop insurance program, and new subsidies would be created for peanut, cotton and rice farmers. The bill adds money to support fruit and vegetable growers, and it restores insurance programs for livestock producers, which expired in 2011. The bill also made changes to a dairy program that sets limits to the amount of milk produced and sold in the United States.

One new proposal from last month would also repeal a provision in the current farm bill, called “permanent law,” that causes farm programs to revert to 1949 price levels if a new farm bill is not passed. Congress has traditionally maintained the provision to prod lawmakers into passing a farm bill or face large increases in farm program expenditures. Without the provision, many lawmakers and farm groups fear there would be no incentive for Congress to pass a farm bill on time.

The New York Times article