WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2014 – President Obama signed into law a sweeping five-year farm bill (H.R. 2642) today that authorizes nearly $1 trillion in spending and makes historic changes to agricultural policy.
In a culmination of a lengthy congressional effort, Obama signed the bill in Michigan, flanked by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and a handful of other Democratic lawmakers. Notably absent from the ceremony was Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Obama said the law was a “very challenging piece of business” for lawmakers to get through Congress. The president said the law is not just about helping farmers, but also includes several components that “will make a big difference in communities across the country… it lifts up our rural communities.”
“(The law) is like a Swiss army knife,” Obama said.
The Agriculture Act of 2014 scraps direct payments in favor of enhanced crop insurance, revises commodity supports, creates a new dairy program, and makes several other policy changes, including an approximate $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The law includes changes to conservation, credit assistance, trade, research, international food assistance, and rural development. A summary of the law can be viewed here.
At the signing, Stabenow said, “I am proud we have a bill focused on the future, not the past. Every form of…agriculture is represented.”
Stabenow has said the law is “really 12 different pieces of legislation from farm to research to fruits and vegetables to energy across the board all put together in something we call the farm bill.” Stabenow said the law seeks to significantly increase support for fruits and vegetables and local food systems. It authorizes large investments in land and water conservation.
Supporters say the law will save about $23 billion, including sequestration cuts.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said about 50 lawmakers, including many Republicans, were invited to attend the signing ceremony. However, Carney and Vilsack said no Republicans accepted invitations. “Everyone invited has to speak for him or herself about their decision to attend or not attend,” Carney said.
Obama’s signature came after the Senate approved the bill on a 68-32 vote on Tuesday, and the House approved the bill last week with a 251-166 vote.
In a statement, Lucas said the law represents “a new era of farm and food policy that values saving money, reforming or repealing government programs, and yet still providing an effective safety net for the production of our national food supply and for those Americans who are struggling.”
Cochran said in a statement, “Implementation of the 2014 farm bill will create opportunities for farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve American agriculture. Producers and consumers of food and fiber will benefit from the reforms included in the new law, as well as from the certainty it provides.”
Agriculture sector groups were pleased by the signing of the bill into law.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers now have answers about how they can manage the many and varied risks they face in producing food and fiber.
“It’s been a bumpy road for the farm bill over the past several years, with many twists and turns, but farmers never gave up nor lost momentum in working toward its passage,” Stallman said. “Farm Bureau believes this farm bill will give farmers and ranchers a measure of business certainty for this and coming years, allowing them to better manage risk while carrying out the important business of providing food and jobs for America.”
Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, said the farm bill was a product of tough negotiation, but set an example of bipartisan work. “I hope members of Congress point to the example of the farm bill as our nation grapples with other critical issues facing our industry, like immigration and the devastating drought we now face in California,” Nassif said.
Martin Barbre, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said the law “means certainty and stability for farmers. It means food on the table for hungry families. And it means taxpayers will save money.”
Barbre said the law eliminates direct payments while maintaining decoupled farm support programs that will minimize the possibility of planting and production distortions that could trigger new World Trade Organization challenges. Further, he said the law allows producers to either maintain existing crop acreage base or to reallocate their current base to reflect average acres planted to covered commodities in 2009-2012.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said the law strengthens federal animal fighting laws by making attending an animal fight a federal offense as well as imposing penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight.
“These changes send a clear message: animal fighting is so vile, so unconscionable, that accountability shouldn’t end with those participating directly,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president. “Anyone attending an animal fight is a participant, and any participation is wrong - especially when you endanger the welfare of a child by bringing them into this dark underworld of illegal activity.”
USDA will now begin the tall order of implementing the law.
Updated: 4:00 p.m., Feb. 7.
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