WASHINGTON, July 20, 2016 - The Republican platform gives some ammunition to hard-line conservatives in Congress who want to split the farm bill, separating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from farm and conservation programs. The platform, approved on the opening day of the convention, says Congress should “separate the administration of SNAP from the Department of Agriculture.”
Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota state senator who co-chaired the subcommittee that wrote the platform’s section on agriculture and energy, tells Agri-Pulse that the recommendation reflects farmer concerns that debates about SNAP are making it harder to pass farm bills. The platform’s message is to “quit playing politics with something that’s really important to our farmers and ranchers,” he said.
The platform writers didn’t give much credence to arguments by farm groups and nutrition advocates that SNAP needs to be kept in the farm bill to maintain a rural-urban coalition for support of farm programs. “The coalition building is something we all agree to in theory. That just doesn’t exist right now,” said Armstrong.
The 66-page document blames Democratic efforts to expand SNAP for delays in getting the 2014 farm bill enacted. Republican efforts to cut the program emerged as a major sticking point in negotiations over the bill between the House and the Senate, which was then under Democratic control.
A Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee earlier this month warned members of the American Soybean Association against supporting the farm bill split that the GOP platform proposes. “You’re never going to see another farm bill” if that happens, he said.
Conservative groups successfully lobbied House Republican leaders to temporarily split the farm bill in 2013 after a version failed on the House floor, but the legislation was re-combined in later negotiations between the House and Senate.
For some conservatives, splitting the farm bill is not about making it easier to pass, but making it more difficult. Daren Bakst of the Heritage Foundation welcomed the platform’s language not because he believes that SNAP slows down passage of farm bills but because it’s harder to get lawmakers to enact changes in ether SNAP or farm programs. “If we’re going to have discussions of reforms for food stamps and the agricultural programs they can’t be log-rolled together so they just get shoved through the political process.”
On trade policy, the GOP platform seeks to walk a fine line between addressing Donald Trump’s criticism of multilateral trade deals while also maintaining the importance of exports to agriculture and other sectors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump opposes, isn’t mentioned directly, but the platform clearly refers to it in warning that Congress shouldn’t consider major trade agreements during a lame-duck session.
The document also says, “Republicans understand that you can succeed in a negotiation only if you are willing to walk away from it. A Republican president will insist on parity in trade and stand ready to implement countervailing duties if other countries refuse to cooperate.”
The platform “takes some significant steps toward Trump and away from free trade, but it does it without the divisive rhetoric that he uses in his stump speeches,” said Bill Reinsch, who recently retired as president of the National Foreign Trade Council.
The platform also emphasizes the importance of U.S. agricultural exports, not only to farmers but the broader economy: “Each dollar of agricultural exports generates another $1.27 in business activity. That is why we remain committed to expanding trade opportunities and opening new markets for agriculture.”
There is only a glancing mention of biofuels in the platform, in the context that all forms of renewable energy, including “wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, geothermal and tidal energy,” should be cost-effective and rely on private capital.
Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents ethanol producers, said he would have preferred to see more support in the platform for his industry, but “it is what it is.”
“We get a lot of support in both parties,” Buis said. “Our issue is not a partisan issue.”
The overarching message of the platform across the agriculture and energy section is criticism of President Obama’s regulatory agenda. It singles out the EPA’s “waters of the U.S.” rule, attacks the administration’s use of the Endangered Species Act and calls on Congress to provide a “timely and orderly mechanism” for turning over some federal lands to the states.
The platform also reiterates longstanding opposition to regulations on greenhouse gas emissions or imposition of a tax on carbon.
“We want to lower taxes, we want to lower regulations, open markets and let our producers go to work,” said Armstrong. “I would have been fine if that was the one sentence in the platform.”
The GOP platform is far more extensive and detailed when it comes to agriculture than the Democratic version is expected to be. The 39-page draft Democratic platform calls for expanding “local food markets and regional food systems” and providing “a focused safety net to assist family operations that need support during challenging times.”
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