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Five-year 'farm bill' goes to conference
House Republican leaders and House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) scored a major victory today as the House chamber cleared the modified farm bill-only measure (HR 2642) by a vote of 216-208. The bill did not include a nutrition title.
Vote countdown: Only 12 Republicans voted against the bill, while all 196 Democratic members voting voted against the bill. Six Republicans and five Democratic members did not vote.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would save $12.9 billion over 10 years. The bill would cut spending on commodity programs $18.7 billion but spend $8.9 billion more on crop insurance.
The next step: A House-Senate conference committee will handle the legislation. Since the House bill lacks a nutrition title, Lucas said he intends to move a separate nutrition bill. He said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) could be cut in the appropriations process, if a nutrition measure ultimately never moves.
Comments: While a conference committee will have to produce a report that ultimately can pass both the House and Senate, it could be teamed with another must-pass conference report, sources signal. Also, Senate negotiators could push to attach their plan to trim SNAP by $4 billion or eliminate the reduction entirely. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the Ag panel's ranking Democrat, said the House bill passed today may go nowhere at all. "What I’m afraid of is that this is just for show and they’ll do the same thing they did on the budget and that is will not go to conference," he told colleagues. The American Farm Bureau Federation raised the same point in a last-minute letter to House members. Peterson said the risk now is that if a modern commodity tittle is substituted as permanent law, the winners will be less willing to compromise. As a result he said conservation and research programs will be sacrificed. "We were doing fine until we got to the floor and the leadership screwed this up," Peterson told Republicans of his partnership with Lucas. "But no you’ve got to have to make this a partisan bill. Some people on that side have been trying to make this a partisan bill for four months and they have finally succeeded... I told my caucus something that I thought would never happen," he said emotionally. "You have now managed to make me a partisan and that’s a darn hard thing to so. But you accomplished it. And this is a bad bill that should be defeated."
Failed forecasters or dissenters. But those predicting, pushing or voting for another House farm bill failure, including Peterson, the Farm Bureau, Democratic House members and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, were all wrong in their predictions that the House bill would again go down to defeat. Also, conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, that opposed the original measure also opposed splitting the farm bill, in part because they believed the leadership’s maneuver was simply an attempt to get a bill to conference with the Senate, which has more generous food stamp provisions and fewer cuts to farm subsidies.
The repeal of permanent farm bill legislation (1938 and 1949) Acts was replaced with the new proposed Title 1. That move was opposed by both the American Farm Bureau Federation (which actively whipped against the House farm bill passage) and the National Farmers Union. This would likely be the first time a House farm bill ws passed without the support of the two major farm groups. Some commodity groups helped to support the pending House measure and those included rice, peanuts, cotton, the United Fresh Produce Assn., Florida, Texas and Louisiana sugar, the NCBA, NPPC, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and rural electric coops.
The repeal language would be one of, if not the biggest, farm policy reform measures in the bill should it be in whatever final language comes via any completed conference. Democratic lawmakers do not support the move, a position aligned with some farm group lobbyists. However, replacing existing permanent legislation (1938 and 1949 Fact laws) with the new Title I language would in essence mean a farm bill longer than the five years of the pending farm bill because the Title 1 programs would be extended should Congress not ink another new farm bill. Conservation, trade and other programs would would not be part of any new permanent legislation -- but those titles have NEVER been part of permanent legislation. And conservation groups have wide bipartisan support so this should not prove to be any major concern.