A broad-based coalition of farm lobby groups is warning that a conservative congressional proposal to split the farm bill is not a workable solution.
More than 500 signatories representing commodity, nutrition, rural development, and conservation groups sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives last week, urging lawmakers to pass a unified spending bill rather than split nutrition programs from agricultural, forestry and conservation initiatives.
The coalition, which represents a diverse set of national and regional interest groups such as the American Farm Bureau, Agri-Mark (which owns Cabot Creamery) and the World Wildlife Fund, opposes the House Republican push to separate food stamps and commodity surplus programs from the agricultural policy and funding portions of the omnibus farm bill proposal.
“We believe that splitting the title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward,” the coalition wrote in a memo to the House.
The coalition argues in its open letter to Congress that the broad range of programs covered by the farm bill should be a vehicle for promoting agreement between Republicans and Democrats in the House.
“Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation, and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support.”
The 2008 omnibus farm bill expired in September 2012, and though the Senate passed a new five-year bill earlier in the year, House leaders refused to bring the bill to the floor. A last-minute continuing resolution in December ensured that basic agricultural and nutrition programs would continue throughout the end of the current fiscal year, giving Congress another nine months to pass a new bill before Sept. 30 of this year.
The House Agriculture Committee and the full Senate passed similar versions of a bipartisan, unified farm bill in June, but after a series of amendments to nutrition and dairy programs, the full House defeated the bill in a 195-234 vote on June 20.
Both the 2012 and 2013 proposed farm bills contain amendments that attempt to control the wild price swings in milk commodity prices for farmers by establishing disincentives for overproduction when the price of milk starts to drop. The program, backed and championed by many Vermont dairy producers, aims to prevent the downward spiral in milk prices by attempting to limit the supply of milk on the market. A floor amendment eliminated this program from the final House bill.
The final version of the House farm bill also would have reduced nutrition spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, by about $20 billion over 10 years, compared to a $4 billion reduction in the Senate farm bill. The SNAP budget for fiscal year 2014 is $79 billion.
After the House voted down the proposed farm bill last month, Americans for Prosperity, an organization backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, said in a statement: “It is long past time to separate the farm and food components of this legislation and consider them on their own merits. Today’s defeat is a signal that the big spending alliance in Congress is breaking down and a new way of doing business is coming to Washington.”
House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., has backed bifurcation of the bill, and Politico reports that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has indicated that he will consider the proposal as he seeks to gather support needed to pass a farm bill.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition opposes the House Republican proposal. In a letter to Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on behalf of the 40 organizations it represents, NSAC officials said the split could further delay passage of the farm bill.
“This is critical legislation that should not be allowed to continue to drift further into uncertainty. Nor should it be split up into narrower component parts, a move that dooms its completion,” representatives from NSAC wrote.
Republicans in the House have indicated that they plan to introduce a new version of the bill within the month.
DISCLOSURE: Cabot Creamery is business sponsor of VTDigger.org.