Farm Bill Update: Aug. 2, 2013

August 2, 2013 03:17 AM

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Peterson blasts House GOP nutrition cutting plan | Lucas comments on various issues | Senate unveils farm bill conferees

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) blasted word that a coming House nutrition bill would cut $40 billion from food aid programs. Meanwhile, the Senate announced its farm bill conferees.

Peterson said, "There they go again. Apparently, the Republican Leadership plans to bring up yet another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party. Clearly they have no interest in compromise or actual legislating," Peterson said. "Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year. I’ve repeatedly told these guys, we don’t have to do this. If the House would just name conferees, members can conference the House "farm only" bill with the Senate’s farm bill during August and produce a compromise for both Houses to pass. Through today’s action, the House Majority has clearly shown they have no interest in getting a farm bill done. The American people should be outraged."

Peterson's response was no surprise. He said he had turned partisan during an early House farm bill vote.

Meanwhile, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) commented on the reported $40 billion SNAP funding cut, which would be twice as large as the $20.5 billion reduction contained in the farm bill (HR 1947) that was defeated in June when 62 Republicans voted against it. "Sixty-some members thought apparently that ($20 billion) wasn't enough. We'll see if they changed their mind," Lucas said following a speech to the Agribusiness Club. Lucas said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) plans to have draft nutrition language ready when the House returns from recess in September.

The major policy change that allows the budget savings, according to sources, is that the bill would eliminate state work-requirement waivers for many food-stamp recipients. Current law states that SNAP recipients can only draw benefits for three months out of every three years, unless they are working or unfit to work. But more than 40 states waive the work requirement based on extended unemployment.

Impacts. Lawmakers estimate nearly 4 million able-bodied adults without dependents in 40 states would face new requirements for receiving assistance. "This population of food stamp recipients has grown dramatically in recent years from 6.6 percent of the recipient population in 2007 to 9.7 percent in 2010," according to a fact sheet on the proposal.

Cantor's office said the forthcoming food stamp bill will have reforms that simply make good sense. "Majority Leader Cantor and Chairman Lucas have worked with members to present a stand alone nutrition bill building on those reforms already considered by the House. That will include common-sense measures, such as work requirements and job training requirements for able bodies adults without children receiving assistance, that enjoy a broad range of support," Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said.

Lucas (R-Okla.) warned lobbyists not to be surprised if the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) doesn’t score the new food stamp bill as saving $40 billion. Lucas said congressional leaders would need to help him bridge the gap.

As for House and Senate food stamp funding differences, Lucas suggested the final figure would ultimately have to be decided by congressional leaders. "This may be one of those issues where the conference committee can work out what each policy really does and the dollar effect on the budget, but where you have to have a little more guidance from on high," Lucas said. "That’s not passing the buck, that’s just saying it’s a tough bridge to cross to achieve consensus." The Senate-passed farm bill would reduce SNAP by just $4 billion.

Lucas again said he expected House and Senate Agriculture committee aides to make "great progress" in coming weeks preparing the issues that a farm bill conference committee would have to negotiate. "I've been wanting to go to conference for a year, first possible moment I go," he said. Until the House takes action on the nutrition title, Lucas said a formal conference committee on the Senate farm bill (S 954) and House agriculture-only measure (HR 2642) is on hold.

Meanwhile, Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said passing a simple extension of the farm bill before the current bill expires would be very difficult. Stabenow noted that Sen Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has vowed to block any extension of the direct payment system the Senate farm bill was designed to replace. In a colloquy on the Senate floor, Flake urged Stabenow to ensure that any farm bill that comes out of conference end direct payments to farmers. Flake noted that the House-passed farm bill would continue subsidy payments to cotton farmers at a rate of 70 percent in 2014 and 60 percent in 2015, which he said would cost taxpayers $823 million. Stabenow agreed, saying she will urge the conference committee to adopt the Senate provision that eliminates direct payments. "It has been my goal from the beginning of this farm bill process to end unnecessary subsidies and clean up areas of waste, fraud, and abuse starting with the direct payment program," Stabenow told Flake.

Senate names farm bill conferees. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday evening named the following conferees to reconcile differences in farm bill legislation approved by the Senate and House of Representatives:

Democrats: Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Max Baucus of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Republicans: Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, John Boozman of Arkansas and John Hoeven of North Dakota.

The House is not expected to announce its conferees until after the fate of a September vote on a separate nutrition aid spending bill.

Comments: Not much new news in the farm bill saga -- but that won't stop various lawmakers and others from hyping policy items during the long congressional summer recess. Just turn them out and have fun instead. 


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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