GOP drops nutrition programs from farm bill
By Larry Dreiling
The House Rules Committee approved a rule to move a stripped-down version of the 2013 farm bill to the floor.
Working past 11 p.m. on July 10, the committee, on a party-line 9-to-4 vote, voted to approve the bill that includes everything that was in the previous version of the farm bill minus the section that would have made a 3 percent cut in the $80 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.
The bill was scheduled to go at right at press time to the House floor on a closed rule—meaning no amendments are allowed—for one hour of debate, one procedural vote, then a vote on final passage, with a likely vote to reconsider being granted for the Democratic minority.
Even as the Rules Committee met, Republican leaders were still counting how many votes they could muster for the new measure. The White House swiftly issued a veto threat, and House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move.
The split bill is an attempt to gather support from conservatives who voted against the $100 billion-a-year farm bill. The House rejected the farm bill in June by a vote of 234 to 195, with 62 Republicans voting against it.
Republicans say a nutrition bill will come at a later date. Farm groups, anti-hunger groups and conservative groups have all opposed the idea, for different reasons.
The idea of a split bill is that the farm portion, which contains about $2 billion a year in cuts to farm subsidies, could pass without the food stamp provisions. Republicans would then be able to make bigger cuts in food stamp programs and pass that bill with conservative support.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said during the Rules Committee hearing, said the farm bill was no longer his committee’s product, but has become the product of the House. He also stated that he took “a bop on the chin” when the House didn’t pass the farm bill in June.
“We have been on a roller coaster in the days since that floor vote, its taken some twists and turns,” Lucas said. “I would simply suggest from my perspective to the Committee that I view this first of inevitably two bills that will be brought before this Committee, as the best possible alternative we have to crafting comprehensive policy”
Lucas said as recently as the week before that he opposed splitting the bill. But he has now reluctantly agreed to the strategy, saying he would support it if his Republican leaders could deliver the votes. As he left the meeting Lucas added he didn’t know if the leadership had the 218 votes necessary for passage.
“Maybe the old dynamic of how we have done things since 1965 isn’t valid anymore,” Lucas said. “Maybe it is time to try something different.”
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Minority Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota did not attend the Rules Committee hearing, but issued a statement reading: “They are ignoring the advice of most of the groups affected by the bill and I see no clear path to getting a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president.”
Many Republicans say that 3 percent cut in nutrition programs in the rejected farm bill isn’t enough since the program’s cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts.
The White House said food stamps should not be left out of the bill. The Barack 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.
One new wrinkle in this farm-only farm bill is that it would repeal the 1938 and 1949 permanent farm law. The new commodity title of the 2013 bill would instead become the permanent farm law.
The bill retains the same commodity, conservation, crop insurance and rural development provisions under the farm bill that included the nutrition provisions June 20.
House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move. House Rules Committee Ranking Member Louise Slaughter of New York called the new bill a “sharp break with decades of bipartisan, urban-rural, cooperation.”
Farm groups and anti-hunger groups have warned that separating the farm and nutrition programs after decades of linking them 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.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said in a statement that the bill was a “bill to nowhere” since the Democratic Senate is likely to add the food stamp money back in. The Democratic-led Senate, which overwhelmingly passed a farm bill with only a half-percent cut to food stamps, would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, last week, more than 500 farm groups asked the GOP leadership not to split the legislation.
Lucas said he hopes a food stamp bill would come to the floor quickly, so the House and Senate can begin negotiations and get a farm bill passed.
“The quicker that second bill is passed the easier it is to complete the whole process,” he said.
Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.