House approves five-year farm bill without nutrition title

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 - The House approved, on a partisan 216-208 vote, a five-year farm bill (H.R. 2642) Thursday, which would strip the nutrition program from the rest of the farm policy legislation.

Presumably, the bill would next move to conference with the Senate-passed farm bill, which does include Title IV provisions such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Twelve Republican lawmakers voted against the bill while no Democrats supported the legislation. Eleven lawmakers did not vote.

Before the vote, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he was sorry to have to oppose the bill, and that the legislation had become a partisan issue.

“[House leadership] should just leave us alone,” Peterson said. “We passed a good bill out of committee. We were doing fine until leadership screwed it up.”

Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said of dropping the nutrition title, “Sometimes you have to have reforms.”

Lucas said the move would allow for passage in the House, so it could move to conference. The House previously rejected the bill, and dropping SNAP and other food programs helped to secure enough Republican votes.

Lets Talk Food

“This gets us ultimately where we need to be,” Lucas said.

During debate on the rule for the bill, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said they have “removed extraneous pieces that would cause the bill to fail.”

Several Democrats latched on to Sessions' comment, including Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., who said, “Hungry people are not extraneous.”

“This is all about going after the poor,” McGovern said, also noting that most lawmakers “don't know what's in this 608-page bill.”

Sessions said the bill largely contains all the language, including approved amendments, that was in the failed House bill, excluding nutrition.

House Democrats angrily staged several procedural moves to slow down the debate. Nearly 100 Democrats repeated short statements to the effect of “I object because it hurts American children.”

In addition, there were several raucous displays of opposition from Democratic lawmakers throughout the debate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said consideration of the legislation was “disrespectful.” She and other lawmakers noted the bill was introduced about 12 hours before the floor debate.

“There is no resemblance to the bill that came out of committee,” Pelosi said. “The audacity is stunning. When you take food out of people's mouth, what are you thinking or are you thinking?”

Lucas and Sessions repeatedly stated the House will consider the nutrition title as separate legislation in the near future.

“We have great respect for people falling on hard times,” Sessions said. “I guarantee we'll do nutrition at a later time.”

Notably, the bill also would repeal the 1949 and 1938 permanent laws, which are considered major strongholds for agricultural interests.

The White House has issued a veto threat. Before the vote, the Congressional Budget Office released a comparison score to the previous House farm bill finding that H.R. 2642 would reduce the deficit by $12.9 billion over 10 years.

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the House bill is not a “real farm bill and is an insult to rural America.”

“We will go to conference with the bipartisan, comprehensive farm bill that was passed in the Senate that not only reforms programs, supports families in need and creates agriculture jobs, but also saves billions more than the extremely flawed House bill,” Stabenow said.

In a short statement, Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said he was pleased the House took action to approve a farm bill, and said he looks forward to conference.

Back in the House, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said House Republicans acted to provide certainty to U.S. farmers while making market-based reforms to end direct payments.

“America's agricultural industry works every day to feed our families and grow our economy,” McCarthy said. “Federal agricultural policies are designed to help ensure Americans have access to affordable, plentiful, and safe food grown in the United States, and this bill makes important reforms to update these programs while saving taxpayer dollars.”

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said, “This is not a perfect bill, nor is this approach my first choice. However, more than anything Arkansas must have a farm bill in place. Passage of this measure puts us one step closer in getting to conference with the Senate, where I hope to continue to influence the debate in a way that represents our state's best interests.”

Agriculture-related groups offered various takes on the development.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, whose group led a large coalition of agriculture groups in opposition to the bill, offered a tempered reaction.

“While we don't yet know what the next steps will be, we will be working with both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress to ensure passage of a new five-year farm bill,” Stallman said. “While we were hopeful the farm bill would not be split, nor permanent law repealed, we will now focus our efforts on working with lawmakers to deliver a farm bill to the president's desk for his signature by September.”

Also in opposition, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the bill undermines the long-time coalition of support for a comprehensive farm bill, which has been historically bipartisan.

“NFU will continue to do all it can to get a reasonable bill through the conference process,” Johnson said. “Any final legislation must continue existing permanent law provisions and include meaningful safety net protections for both family farmers facing difficult times and the food insecure.”

Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said his group was “relieved” that a conference may occur on the farm bill.

“However today's approval by the House on a partial bill will mean nothing if we can't get a bill back from conference that both chambers will pass,” Murphy said. “ASA is opposed to the replacement of permanent law by whatever legislation may result from this process.  If only Title I of a new farm bill is made permanent, other titles - including conservation, research, energy and trade - would risk not being reauthorized when the bill expires after five years, since Title I would remain in place.”

Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, said the House bill is “seriously flawed” because it contains the controversial Goodlatte-Scott dairy amendment as well as a repeal of permanent agricultural law.

“Neither of these measures serves the best long-term interests of dairy farmers,” Kozak said. He noted the Senate, by contrast, overwhelmingly passed the Dairy Security Act as part of its bill, which NMPF and about all dairy farmers support.

“Nevertheless, today's action means that there is still hope that a new farm bill can be passed in 2013,” Kozak said. “Without any progress toward a Senate-House conference committee, we were looking at yet another one-year extension of current programs, which is unacceptable.”

The Goodlatte-Scott dairy provision also disturbs Peterson, who after the vote said the CBO has said it will cost $300 million over 10 years.

 “I would say it costs $30 billion,” Peterson said. “CBO has no idea about dairy. So if they make that permanent, basically you're giving my dairy farmers $30 billion dollars. That's pretty tempting.”

Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), said his organization wants a farm bill signed into law this year.

“It is unclear whether today's passage of a portion of the farm bill in the House of Representatives is a step toward that goal or not,” Hoefner said. “If it was merely a face-saving effort following the defeat of the new farm bill a few weeks ago - with no intent to move the entire process forward - then today's vote was quite simply a travesty.”

Bing Von Bergen, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said his organization was pleased to see the House approval, but not without reservations.

“Splitting the agriculture and nutrition portions of the traditional farm law is a concern of ours,” Bergen said. “At the same time, we are pleased the House can now move to a conference process with the Senate and work toward a product that can be approved by both chambers and President Obama before the current farm bill extension expires.”

Mitt Walker, director of national legislative programs for Alabama Farmers Federation, said his group remains united with AFBF despite supporting a split bill.

“Our members felt the split bill may be the only option left to get a five-year farm bill passed before the current, extended bill expires in September,” Walker said. “Passage of the split bill will keep the legislation moving forward to a conference committee where differences possibly can be reconciled with the Senate version.

Jimmy Dodson, chairman of the National Cotton Council, welcomed the vote.

“While this is not the process we would have preferred, it is an important step which we hope will lead to successful and timely development of critically important new farm legislation,” Dodson said. “We urge members to return to the practice of working in a bipartisan basis to develop effective policy.”

Updated at 7:05 p.m. EST

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