Friday, July 12, 2013

U.S. House Passes Federal Farm Bill; Strips Out Food-Stamp Program

This is NOT the U.S. Senate Bill that I posted about last week, but we still need to watch all the Federal Food Stamp bills for “sex offender” amendments since Senator Vitter set the bad example and if any such prohibition is added I will post about it so you can contact your Federal representatives.


By Jonathan Weisman and Ron Nixon July 11, 2013

WASHINGTON — Republicans muscled a pared-back agriculture bill through the House on Thursday, stripping out the food stamp program to satisfy recalcitrant 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 an embarrassing reprisal 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 percent of the original bill’s cost, and it remains the centerpiece of the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill.  

Even in a chamber used to acrimony, Thursday’s debate in the House was particularly brutal. Democrats repeatedly called for roll-call votes on parliamentary procedures and motions to adjourn, delaying the final vote by hours and charging Republicans over and over again with callousness and cruelty.  

Republicans shouted protests, trying to silence the most strident Democrats, and were repeatedly forced to vote to uphold their own parliamentary rulings.  

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.  

House and Senate negotiators could produce a compromise measure with the robust food stamp program the Senate wants, but such a bill would almost certainly have to pass the House with significant Republican defections.  

Asked before the vote Thursday if he would allow a compromise bill to come to a final vote in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio shrugged and said: “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas. You’ve heard that before. My goal right now is to get the farm bill passed. We’ll get to those other issues later.”  

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.  

“We wanted separation, and we got it,” said Representative Marlin Stutzman, Republican of Indiana, one of the bill’s chief authors. “You’ve got to take these wins when you can get them.”  

Democrats denounced the bill as a naked attempt to make draconian cuts in the food stamp program.  

“A vote for this bill is a vote to end nutrition in America,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.  

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called the House measure “an insult to rural America.”  

Anti-hunger groups called passage of the farm bill without the food stamp program a disgrace.  

“Today’s vote is the latest smoking gun that the House majority isn’t truly interested in deficit reduction,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “They’re interested in supporting special interest groups over hungry Americans.”

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, leaving thousands of operations without disaster coverage during last year’s drought. 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. 

One overlooked provision in the bill came from Representative Dan Benishek, Republican of Michigan, a surgeon, and would require additional economic and scientific analyses before a 2010 law to improve the food safety system goes into effect.  

A spokesman for Mr. Benishek, Kyle Bonini, said it was meant to protect farmers “from being hit with more costly regulations.”   

But food safety advocates said that they were surprised by the provision and that it would effectively halt implementation of the law, which gives the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over food production.  

Erik D. Olson, director of food programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which was involved in promoting the law, called the provision “an extremely troubling development.”  

No Democrats voted for the measure Thursday, and 12 Republicans voted against it — mainly the most conservative members, with a scattering of moderates. Republican discipline on the final vote was something of a rebuke to conservative advocacy groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which had worked against the bill, even after the food stamp program was stripped out. 

But its removal engulfed a bill that for years had passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in acrimony.  

“They cannot help themselves from turning nonpartisan, bipartisan legislation into ‘my way or the highway,’ ” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, said of his Republican colleagues.  

In the early 1970s, as rural members of Congress saw their numbers start to decline, a deal was struck to include food stamps in the farm bill so lawmakers would be able to muster enough votes to pass it. But both nutrition programs and farm subsidies have grown tremendously in the past 20 years, and a new breed of legislators, many of them elected in 2010 and backed by the Tea Party, are more concerned with federal spending than building coalitions to pass a farm bill.  

Last week, 532 farm organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest farm lobby, called on lawmakers not to split the farm bill into two pieces of legislation. In a letter on Thursday, Bob Stallman, president of the Farm Bureau, called the split disappointing. But after the vote, Mr. Stallman said the group would move ahead with getting a new five-year farm bill.  

“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,” he said.
For different reasons, the Club for Growth also opposed the bill. Chris Chocola, the political action committee’s president, said a new farm support program, called the “shallow loss” program, would guarantee farmers 90 percent of their income and “essentially locks in high commodity prices forevermore.”  

He also protested that Republican leaders had refused to guarantee that the food stamp program would not be included in the final measure that comes out of negotiations with the Senate.  


By Christopher Doering July 11, 2013

House lawmakers narrowly passed a new version of the farm bill that doesn't include money for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program relied on by millions of Americans.

WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers approved a scaled-back version of the farm bill Thursday after stripping out the popular food-stamp program used by 48 million Americans.

The bill narrowly passed on a 216-208 vote, largely along party lines. A dozen Republicans voted against the measure while no Democrats voted in favor.

The measure focuses solely on farm programs and would delay, at least for now, efforts to overhaul the country's food-stamp program that traditionally has made up 80% of spending in the bill.

STORY: White House pledges veto of GOP farm bill
STORY: U.S. House rejects $500 billion farm bill

"This process hasn't been easy and we still have a long way to go to get a farm bill signed into law," said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. "Splitting the farm bill is not ideal and certainly wasn't the path I would have chosen, but at the end of the day, we need to get a farm bill into conference with the Senate."

Noem told reporters that House leaders said they expect to vote on the food-stamp portion of the bill "in the next week or two."

House lawmakers last month failed to pass a five-year, $500 billion farm bill that would have implemented the biggest cuts to the food-stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in decades.

The legislation stalled after Republican lawmakers pushed for deeper cuts in SNAP spending, drawing the ire of Democrats who feared too many poor people would no longer be eligible.

The divide siphoned off votes and left GOP leaders scrambling to find an alternative path forward. The current farm law expires on Sept. 30.

Democrats lined up Thursday to oppose splitting the bill. They criticized Republican leaders for not giving them enough time to review the measure and expressed fears that removing SNAP spending would hurt American families that depend on the program.

The White House late Wednesday said it would veto the 608-page farm bill because it omitted SNAP spending and did not "contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms."

Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack of Iowa called the House actions "unconscionable," saying the "legislation does not move the bill forward, it is in fact a step back."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, described it as "an insult to rural America."

For Republicans, House passage means leaders in both the House and Senate are a step closer toward drafting a final farm bill. The Senate passed its farm bill in June.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said splitting the bill was "unusual" and not his preferred path forward, but "my goal is to get a farm bill passed."

Farm groups have been divided over whether to break up the legislation.

Last week, more than 530 agriculture and other rural groups signed a letter opposing the plan. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview that the House bill lacked comprehensive reform and criticized Republicans for turning their backs on rural Americans in favor of partisan politics.

"I'm sure there is a lot of disappointment and irritation," said Vilsack. "Farmers, ranchers, producers and rural Americans really deserved much better than they got today."

Some farm organizations recently have reversed course and came out in support of removing SNAP spending from the bill. National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson said Thursday the group had opposed splitting farm and nutrition programs but now sees "no other way" to move the farm bill to conference with the Senate.

"Our action in no way reflects our approval of its contents or the manner in which it came to the floor," said Johnson. "Unless significant change is made to the bill in the conference committee, we will strongly urge its rejection by the Senate and the House."

The farm bill passed Thursday would save about $20 billion by ending or consolidating several programs and reducing subsidy spending, including the $5 billion a year in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need. The savings would be used to expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program.

The House proposal also would remove the so-called "permanent law" that causes farm programs to go back to 1949 levels if a bill is not in place, curbing plantings and forcing the government to increase subsidy payments by tens of billions of dollars.

Lawmakers and agriculture groups have cautioned that without the backstop, Congress would lack the motivation to pass a farm bill on time.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the country's largest farm group, said he had opposed repealing the 1949 law and splitting farm programs from SNAP spending, but his organization remains committed to working with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers "to deliver a farm bill to the president's desk for his signature by September."


By Mary Clare Jalonick July 11, 2013
WASHINGTON — Republicans pushed a scaled-down farm bill through the House on Thursday, putting off a fight over food stamp spending and giving GOP leaders a victory after a decisive defeat on the larger bill last month.
Republicans faced significant opposition to the plan from Democrats, farm groups and conservative groups that threatened to use the vote against GOP members in future campaigns. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., navigated his colleagues to a narrow 216-208 vote by convincing Republican members that this was the best chance to get the bill passed and erase the embarrassment of the June loss.
Any other path to passage would have most likely included concessions to Democrats who opposed the original bill.
Last month 62 Republicans voted against a broader bill after Boehner and Cantor supported it. Only 12 Republicans voted against the new measure and no Democrats voted for it.
Republicans said the food stamp part of the legislation would be dealt with separately at a later date, and Cantor said after the vote that Republicans would ‘‘act with dispatch’’ to get that legislation to the floor. That bill is expected to make cuts much deeper than the original bill, which trimmed around 3 percent, or about $2 billion a year, from the $80 billion-a-year feeding program.
Many Republicans had said the cut wasn’t enough since the program’s cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts. The food stamp program doesn’t need legislation to continue, but Congress would have to pass a bill to enact changes.
Dropping the food stamps drops the cost of the farm bill from $100 billion a year to about $20 billion a year.
The measure passed Thursday would cut farm program spending by about $1.3 billion a year and is almost identical to the larger bill defeated last month, except for the dropped food stamp language. It includes one new provision that repeals laws from the 1930s and 1940s that kick in when current farm law expires. Farm-state lawmakers have kept those laws on the books so there would be incentive to pass new farm bills, but the threat of outdated policies kicking in has been a headache for farmers who worry they can’t depend on Congress to create new laws or extend more recent versions of the law.
Repealing those decades-old laws could mean that Congress would have little incentive to create new farm bills, however, and could make many of the new farm programs permanent.
The bill would also expand government subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanuts and eliminate subsidies that are paid whether a recipient farms or not.
During the floor debate, House Democrats angrily opposed the bill and called for a series of procedural votes to delay. They painted the legislation as taking the food stamps away from the hungry.
President Barack Obama has threatened a veto.
In voting for the bill, conservative lawmakers made the unusual move of bucking the conservative groups Club for Growth and Heritage Action, both of which said they would use a ‘‘yes’’ vote against Republicans in future campaigns. While those groups originally supported the idea of dropping the food stamps and taking that part of the bill up separately, they later said the GOP idea was a ruse to get the bill in conference with the Democratic-led Senate, where food stamps will be added back in with smaller cuts.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a farm bill last month with only a half-percent cut to food stamps and would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs. After House passage, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called the bill ‘‘an insult to rural America.’’
Just hours before Thursday’s expected floor vote, it was still unclear whether GOP leaders had the votes needed to pass the new farm-program-only measure. House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move by the GOP.
But GOP leaders moved quickly. The night-before release of the bill’s text underscored the lengths to which House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had to go as he tried to get legislation past his fractious Republican caucus.
Splitting the popular farm bill from the controversial food stamp cuts and releasing the bill’s text at 8 p.m. EDT on the eve of Thursday’s scheduled vote denied conservatives the time to rally opposition. But the bill’s prospects remained a tense question through the day.
Before the vote, Boehner acknowledged that the process was unusual but said, ‘‘My goal right now is to get a farm bill passed.’’
But in a floor speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, ‘‘You are taking food out of the mouths of your own poor constituents.’’
The White House agreed that food stamps should not be left out of the bill. The Obama administration had also threatened to veto the original bill, saying it did not include enough reductions to farm subsidies and the food stamp cuts were too severe.
Farm groups and anti-hunger groups have warned that separating the farm and nutrition programs after linking them since the 1970s would be misguided. Rural lawmakers have long added money for food stamps to the farm bill, which sets policy for agricultural subsidies and other farm programs, to gather urban votes for the measure.
The vote was a welcome victory for Republicans who have struggled to bring their majority together on even bigger issues like immigration and the budget.
‘‘Thank God, we can do something!’’ exclaimed Rep. Tom Rooney R-Fla., as he walked off the floor after the final vote.