In a sometimes raucous, often emotional debate, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved a 608-page farm bill this afternoon 216 to 208. But it excluded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the bill. No Democrats voted for the bill.
The House spent nearly seven hours debating the condensed farm bill today, after meetings last night when Republican House leadership stripped food stamps and nutrition assistance from the bill.
The farm program portion of the bill contains dairy margin insurance but no market stabilization program. It also would make this version of the farm bill permanent law. Under current law, the farm bill reverts to 1938 and 1949 legislation, which means dairy prices must be supported at 75% to 90% of parity if no updates are made. If today’s House farm bill prevails, that will no longer be the case.
It is still unclear where the farm bill goes from here. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said the Agriculture Committee would again consider the SNAP title to attempt to come to some resolution.
Earlier in today’s debate, Rep. Pete Session (R., Tex.), argued that the farm program portion of the bill could be taken to conference committee with the Senate. The version does contain the SNAP program, with $4.5 billion in approved cuts.
More than 500 agricultural groups opposed splitting food assistance programs away from the farm bill. The two have been paired since the 1980s in order to garner urban and consumer support for the farm bill.
Reaction to the House vote came quickly:
"The farm bill passed today by the House of Representatives is seriously flawed, in that it contains the Goodlatte-Scott dairy amendment, as well as a repeal of permanent agricultural law," says Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. "Neither of these measures serves the best long-term interests of dairy farmers.
"Nevertheless, today’s action means that there is still hope that a new farm bill can be passed in 2013," he says. "Without any progress toward a Senate-House conference committee, we were looking at yet another one-year extension of current programs, which is unacceptable.
Today’s vote means that agricultural leaders now can work on improving the House bill and developing better dairy policy than what exists now, and what is contained in this House bill."
Dairy processors see it differently. "The House-passed version of the Farm Bill will allow our industry to continue to grow and create thousands more jobs," says Jerry Slominski, Senior Vice President of Legislative and Economic Affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association. "The Senate-passed version of the farm bill, however, continues to include the divisive milk supply management policy that is opposed by national consumer groups, supermarket chains, restaurants, taxpayers, the Teamsters union and many dairy producers, including the second-largest dairy cooperative.
"We support the aid to dairy farmers in the House bill, but we oppose the Senate dairy package. We will continue to educate the Senate and House conferees, showing that we can help dairy farmers through difficult economic times without making it more difficult for millions of families to afford healthy and nutritious dairy products."