The U.S. House on Thursday passed its version of a farm bill, more than a year after the previous farm bill expired. But critics are warning that the bill, which was stripped of the nutrition programs and a dairy price stabilization measure, could be irreconcilable with the full version passed by the Senate.Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was one of the representatives who voiced strong opposition on the House floor prior to the bill’s passage, which he and all House Democrats, joined by 12 Republicans, voted against.
“This is not a farm bill. This is a leadership-designed train wreck,” said Welch. “We had a farm bill. It was bipartisan. It saved money. It provided farmers with more security. … It provided conservation, and it’s a way forward. But instead what we have is the result of a failure of the leadership.”
The 216-208 vote in favor of this version of the farm bill follows the defeat on June 20 of a bill that more closely resembled the Senate’s farm bill. That version lost a dairy price stabilization program in a last-minute amendment, but contained nutrition funding at a reduced level, cutting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding by $20 billion over 10 years (compared to a $4 billion reduction in the Senate version).
In the days since, however, groups such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, pushed to split farm and nutrition titles into separate bills, splintering the rural-urban coalitions that have traditionally helped the omnibus agriculture bill gain bipartisan support.
The House-passed bill eliminates proposed dairy stabilization measures and repeals the permanent laws of 1938 and 1949, which contain baseline agricultural prices that would be much higher than they are currently, and have tended to serve as incentives for Congress to pass a new farm bill every five years.
House Democrats in particular protested the removal of nutrition programs, which usually comprise about 80 percent of total farm bill budget allocations. Republican House leaders said that funding could come up in a separate bill later this year.
In a news release, Massachusetts-based New England Farmers Union (NEFU) called the House bill “a bad deal for New England farmers,” decrying the lack of bipartisanship that House leadership expressed in passing the bill.
The bill’s next step is conference committee, and NEFU said it will continue to lobby for a comprehensive farm bill that more closely resembles the Senate version.
“Any final legislation must continue existing permanent law provisions and include meaningful safety-net protections for both family farmers facing difficult times and the food insecure,” NEFU president Roger Noonan said.
Welch’s office said he would work with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the coming months to advocate for dairy price stabilization and nutrition funding in the final bill.
“America needs a farm bill, not something that is designed for political consumption and for farm failure,” Welch said Thursday.