Last week, I said the farm bill was fighting its way to the finish line. Well, it didn’t make it. In a vote of 234 to 195, agriculture was dealt a stunning defeat.
What happened? Only 21 Democrats voted for the bill. Congressman Peterson couldn’t deliver the votes he had promised. Even a larger number of Republicans that were supposed to be in the "yes" column rejected the bill. I think the real problem with the bill was that a lot of members from both parties didn’t like the bill very much anyway. They were going to vote for it just to get it off the table.
The Democratic members hated the fact that the bill cut spending on food stamps by 20 billion dollars over the next decade. That’s only 2 billion dollars per year. Republicans felt that we are already spending too much on food stamps. The number of people receiving food stamps has spiked 70 percent in just the last 5 years. It is still going up.
A lot of Members didn’t like the dairy supports. An amendment to delete the supply-management language from the bill was passed by a huge margin (291 to 135). The sugar section of the bill is very unpopular.
But, the final straw that broke the camel’s back was the adoption of an amendment from Florida Congressman Steve Southerland to give states the option to experiment with work requirements for those receiving food stamps. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, but the Democrats couldn’t accept it.
So, what next? We could just extend the current bill, but we’re farming under an extension now. Senator Harry Reid said, "There will be no extension." Even Republicans don’t want an extension.
I think we have reached a point in time when we should split the farm bill from the food bill. Over all of these years, this legislative process of "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" has worked to deliver more to both sides – food and agriculture. Maybe it’s time to get that divorce.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the House deals with their mess now Agriculture’s safety net and food security for the hungry are looking to a very uncertain future.