New approaches, similar roadblocks
By Seymour Klierly
To the casual observer the latest versions of the farm bill look similar to legislation passed a year ago by both the Agriculture Committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, once you delve into the policies dictated in the legislation, there are new approaches for the bills.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, has his work cut out to get the bill on the floor. The House version, H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013, passed the committee mark up by a large, bipartisan vote of 36 to 10. Compared to a year ago, the bill found an additional $4 billion in savings through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously called food stamps.
The larger cuts to food stamps have helped move the needle for floor consideration. House Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, is confident that Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, wants to move the legislation. He has also previously noted that Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, wants the House to vote on the legislation this summer. Last year’s bill stalled and was never considered before the full House of Representatives.
On the Senate side, S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 moved quickly to the floor for further consideration. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D, MI, has allowed for a major change in approach advocated by her new Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-MS. The senator has advocated and won special treatment for Southern producers, against the ire of Midwestern members, including Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, and Sen. Mike Johanns, R-NE.
Last year’s version of the Senate farm bill ended among assorted programs, the counter-cyclical program which includes government set target prices. In 2012, without the desired price and revenue protection that rice and peanut growers craved, Southern Senators voted against the bill and added damaging amendments, including one that tied conservation compliance to crop insurance. For 2013, with high target prices for rice and peanuts, the members from Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas were able to throw their support behind the bill.
The Great Plains state members were not able to go along with the switch in philosophical and practical directions. According to Johanns, “This year’s farm bill presents some different problems, though. This draft, in my judgment, represents a step backward for ag policy. Instead of moving forward with a free market–type system, what this farm bill does is it doubles down on something called target prices, which is really a subsidy for certain commodities.” While the vote total in the Senate Agriculture Committee was similar both years, Republican members of the two regions swapped their support and opposition of the bill.
Without Midwestern support in the Senate and higher cuts to nutrition in the House, can the legislation pass or will there have to be another extension? Those are the key questions as the farm bill is considered on both the House and Senate Floor and ultimately sent to a conference committee.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.