Newspaper article

House Passes Farm Bill without Food Stamp Provisions

Newspaper article

House Passes Farm Bill without Food Stamp Provisions

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House narrowly passed a farm bill without a controversial section funding nutrition programs on Thursday, the latest chapter in what has become a now deeply partisan saga over federal agriculture policy.

The bill, which would replace direct subsidies for farmers with a crop insurance program -- a change many members and most industry groups support -- passed 216-208 with every Democrat opposed, including the three Minnesotans on the House Agriculture Committee. Republicans had brought the bill to the floor after competing coalitions of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans scuttled a comprehensive farm bill in June over opposing concerns about cuts to food stamp funding. Leadership managed to limit GOP defections to just 12 on Thursday (every Minnesota member voted along party lines), after 62 opposed the bill in June.

Democrats strongly objected to splitting food stamps from the agriculture sections, saying it breaks the long tradition of Congress setting federal nutrition policy alongside agriculture policy. The White House and Senate Democrats also opposed the bill on those grounds.

That doesn't mean this is the end of the line, though. Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson said the House and Senate could meet to forge a compromise farm bill based on what the House passed Thursday and the Senate passed one month ago.

In a statement after the vote, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow called the House bill "not a real farm bill and an insult to rural America," but said the Senate would go to a joint committee if the House did.

"This is a step in the process," Peterson said. "I don't agree with this bill, but this bill has no chance of coming out of conference, none. And if we do get a bill out of conference, it won't look anything like this."

The House Agriculture Committee could take up funding for food stamps and nutrition programs or it could go through the budget appropriations process, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said during House debate. Or, Peterson offered after the vote, nothing could happen at all, and current food stamp funding levels would stay the same going forward (unlike agriculture policy, nutrition assistance programs do not need regular review and reform from Congress).

Peterson: GOP had an easier time than he predicted

Farm bills are traditionally deeply bipartisan affairs, but a spat over the food stamp cuts led to deep divisions in both parties. Republicans wanted more than the $2 billion in annual cuts included in the original House bill; Democrats wanted less (food stamps make up about 80 percent of the farm bill's cost; the $2 billion cut was about 3 percent of the annual food stamp budget).

Even so, Democrats now say they had the votes to send the full farm bill to a conference committee with the Senate in June, until the House began amending the bill. …

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