The House Agriculture Committee has long touted its history of bipartisanship. That cooperative spirit was fractured as the last farm bill was debated in 2013. It may have been shattered as debate over the 2018 bill got underway in the Capitol today.
“H.R. 2 (the farm bill) is not a work product that I’m proud of because it’s not one I or my Democratic colleagues had a proper role in producing,” Ranking Democrat on the Ag Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) told his colleagues on the House floor. “More than that though, I’m opposed to H.R. 2 today because it’s simply not good enough for American farmers, consumers or rural advocates.”
Democrat opposition to the bill centers on Republican proposals that would place work or work training requirements on many recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.
“As I speak today, I refuse to give legitimacy to what has been, in my view, an illegitimate process,” Peterson continued. “I have been through four farm bills: as a Member, as a Chairman, and as a Ranking Member. Each bill had its share of headaches, but all had more common ground than opposition, and in the end, the Agriculture Committee always produced a product we could be proud of because we knew we’d delivered the best deal possible given the circumstances. … If folks want to do welfare reform, then it should be done as part of a comprehensive review involving all the committees of jurisdiction and the relevant programs. We should not and cannot ask farmers, rural communities and the hungry to bear the cost.”
Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Mike Conaway (R-TX) urged support for his bill, saying rural America needs the support it offers. “Times are not good right now in the Heartland,” Conaway said. “Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are struggling in the midst of a five year recession with no end in sight. Net farm income has been cut in half over this period of time. As a result, rural America is not partaking in the economic recovery that urban counterparts are experiencing.”
Conaway cited challenges from drought, wildfires and hurricanes in addition to trade imbalances as significant challenges facing agriculture that can be addressed in the farm bill.
As to the Democrat concerns about SNAP changes, Conaway responded, “It is no secret that we do not have a bipartisan farm bill process at the moment. I regret this deeply. Ultimately, Democrats and Republicans chose to agree to disagree on the question of whether work-capable adults should work or get free work training for 20 hours per week to be eligible for SNAP benefits. I respect my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, but I do want to be clear about something: this farm bill in no way, shape, or form disrespects Americans who depend on SNAP. To the contrary, the farm bill keeps faith with SNAP beneficiaries, providing needed benefits AND something more: the dignity that comes from work and the promise of a better life that a job brings.”
Debate over the House version of the farm bill continues into Wednesday evening. Markup on a Senate version of a farm bill is expected to begin next week.