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Health care battle may presage next farm bill debate

Freedom Caucus resurgence may not bode well for drafting the 2018 farm bill.

The outcome of the latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act may have been disappointing to farmers who are trying to figure out how to deal with higher insurance premiums associated with Obamacare.

But the fallout from the decision by the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the American Health Care Act legislation before it came up for a vote may come back to haunt farmers and their organizations in the months ahead.

That’s because members of the House Freedom Caucus, who were expected to play nice now that Republicans control the White House, showed they are still a force to be reckoned with in passing legislation. And that could be problematic when it comes to the new farm bill.

According to reports, the 30 members of the Freedom Caucus opposed Trumpcare not because they disagreed with the legislation, but because they didn’t think it went far enough to dismantle Medicaid and Medicare and other programs many Americans rely on for insurance coverage.

Many feel the same way about other government programs, including farm subsidies. Freedom Caucus members almost torpedoed the 2014 farm bill by passing legislation in the House that would have separated the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps from the farm bill.

Freedom Caucus members espouse many of the thoughts of experts employed by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank that is trying to play a more dominant role in farm policy. Here’s what the Foundation’s agricultural expert, Daren Bakst, had to say about the nomination of Sonny Perdue to be agriculture secretary:

“Farmers need freedom to do what they do best: provide us our food. In agricultural policy, freedom is too often ‎lacking. If confirmed, Gov. Perdue should work diligently to free our nation’s farmers from excessive regulation, stop government handouts that presume farmers cannot compete in the marketplace like other businesses, and break down barriers to increase farmers’ freedom to trade.

The Heritage Foundation’s impact is being felt at all levels of government these days. As a Washington Post writer noted, the Trump budget proposal, which calls for a 21 percent reduction in USDA spending “bears a striking resemblance to the Heritage Foundation’s ‘Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017.”

To read more about the Foundation’s farm policy ideas, visit Farms and Free Enterprise. That document, Bakst says, gives legislators a “clear choice before the next farm bill is debated: Support a free-enterprise alternative to the farm bill or maintain the status quo.”

If that means giving up Price Loss Coverage or Agricultural Risk Coverage programs and not developing a new Title 1 cotton program, farmers and their organizations will say “no thanks.”

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