Nutrition title fight means difficulty in moving farm bill needle

Nutrition title fight means difficulty in moving farm bill needle

Still several weeks from reconvening after August recess, Congress will arrive back in D.C. with a new farm bill in the balance.

Having already passed new farm legislation and named conferees, the Senate is ready to move on the legislation quickly. That isn’t the case in the House, where conferees are yet to be named and there is a scant nine legislative days before the current extension of the 2008 farm bill expires at the end of September.

Nine days.

The increasingly partisan House faces a massive task in a compressed time frame – a circumstance largely of its own making. To achieve passage of a new farm bill, not only must the House GOP caucus deal with the lingering, potentially deal-killing issue of nutrition program funding, it must also navigate demands of an intransigent Republican wing that has already proven willing to buck and embarrass its leaders.

Full farm bill coverage here.

Nutrition spending and laws governing who is eligible for the programs proved too high a hurdle during the first House farm bill vote early this summer. Several weeks later, in order to pass a farm bill, House leadership had to jettison the nutrition title – in the process trying to kill a 40-year-old rural/urban coalition formed to ensure passage of farm bills -- while enraged Democrats lined up to howl and pound the podium. The second attempt succeeded on a party-line vote.

 

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Here’s the thing: even if conference is reached, the negotiated nutrition program funding cuts that return are likely to be unpalatable for a large portion of the House GOP contingent. That contingent is calling for at least $40 billion in reduced food stamp spending.

And suggestions that that conference can take place without the House passing a nutrition title – something leadership insists won’t happen – don’t take into account that in that circumstance the Senate’s bill will be the starting point for negotiations. The Senate is unlikely to move far from the $4 billion in nutrition program cuts in its farm bill.

This week, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the group wanted to “bring the heat” to move Congress to act on a new farm bill.

Top of the list

“The farm bill is at the very top of the list of things Congress needs to get done,” Stallman said at South Dakota farm meeting. “We have to keep the heat on Congress to get a five-year farm bill done this year.”

Despite the obstacles to a new farm bill, Stallman said, “There is plenty of time in this Congress to pass a five-year farm bill. We have to stay focused on getting it done.”

Stallman played up the need for farmer certainty going into 2014 and downplayed calls for another extension of the 2008 farm bill as premature and “a cop-out.”

 Another group, American Farmland Trust, is attempting to send Congress 10,000 letters in support of a new farm bill. “The farm bill includes programs that promote farmers markets, support local foods and help beginning farmers. But bitter politics and budget cutting posturing overtook the farm bill process, and now many of these programs are currently without authorization or funding, leaving stranded the farmers and communities that rely on them.”

During a Tuesday (August 20) radio interview, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, named a farm bill conferee in early August, said he was unsure how a new farm bill would get done. “I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do it. This is not a Republican or Democratic thing. With the farm bill, it’s all about regional agriculture, making sure that you have a program -- not one-size-fits-all, but puts the safety net in for all of our farmers.”

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