by Philip Brasher, CQ Roll Call Staff
It’s markup time for the House farm bill, and it’s promising to be a long day. The committee could debate at least 30 amendments — that’s how many had been filed by yesterday’s deadline, according to a committee aide — sparking fights over such issues as food stamps, dairy policy and crop insurance.
Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota are expressing confidence they’ve got a bipartisan majority of the 46-member committee behind the bill (HR 6083), reports CQ’s Ellyn Ferguson. “People want to get a farm bill through,” Peterson said. As of Tuesday, he had 10 confirmed Democratic votes for the bill despite the cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program included in the measure, reports Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser. (A section-by-section is now available at the committee web site.)
An 11-member coalition of conservative groups — including Heritage Action for America, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the National Taxpayers Union and FreedomWorks — is urging House members to reject the bill because it “reinforces the heavy federal and taxpayer role in the farm economy.” In a letter (pdf), the groups argue that the bill’s $35 billion in savings over 10 years is too little, given that it comes off a baseline of nearly $1 trillion.
Dueling Amendments to Increase, Reduce SNAP Cuts. Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp wants the bill to cut even deeper into SNAP than its proposed $16 billion, or 2 percent, reduction over 10 years. He has an amendment to increase the cut to $30 billion, which is in line with the GOP budget plan (HR 5652) that passed in May to protect the Pentagon from automatic spending cuts set to take effect next year. “We’ve already had the debate over food stamps. So why don’t we take the number that the House already agreed to?” asked Huelskamp, a farmer by trade. “Someone’s got to defend the House budget position in the committee.”
From the left, several Democrats including Jim McGovern of Massachusetts will try to restore an $11 billion SNAP cut that the bill would make by limiting eligibility to the program to households that receive cash assistance from the Supplemental Security Income disability program, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and state general aid programs. There almost certainly won’t be the votes for that amendment, but it would bring the bill’s SNAP savings in line with the Senate-passed farm bill (S 3240). McGovern calls the bill’s SNAP reduction “unconscionable” and “immoral.” If his amendment “fails, I’m against the bill in committee, and I’m going to fight like hell against it on the House floor,” he said.
No matter the outcome on the SNAP amendments, Chuck Conner, the president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, who spearheaded the George W. Bush administration’s work on the 2008 farm bill, warned a gathering of soybean growers Tuesday that cutting food stamps “is going to be a huge, huge stumbling block to just how far this bill can proceed going forward.”
Peterson Confident of Protecting Dairy Program. Opponents of a supply management program for milk have been lobbying to get it removed from the bill. Reps. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., and David Scott, D-Ga., are expected to offer an amendment that would eliminate language requiring a reduction in milk production when surpluses could drive down prices. Peterson, the plan’s author, says he has the votes to preserve the program. The National Restaurant Association, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Council of Chain Restaurants, National Grocers Association and National Frozen Pizza Institute joined the International Dairy Foods Association in opposing the dairy supply provision as anti-competitive. The groups — all commercial buyers or users of dairy products — say their costs could rise with restrictions on milk production. But the National Milk Producers Federation says the supply management is key to other provisions in the dairy program designed to protect farmer income.
Other Amendments On Tap:
- A sod-saver provision sponsored by Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies for native prairie that is broken and planted to crops. Some of the money saved by the amendment would be used for beginning farmer grants, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
- Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., is proposing to tighten eligibility rules for crop subsidies by restricting the definition for being “actively engaged” in farming, according to NSAC (pdf).
What’s Next? The Way Forward Still Cloudy. With only 20 legislative days left after this week before the current farm bill expires Sept. 30, it’s not at all clear what will happen to the bill post-markup. “I think we’ve got plenty of votes in the committee,” Peterson said. “The bigger problem is going to be, first of all, getting it onto the floor, getting leadership to give us time. And even then it’s going to be tough. The left won’t be satisfied, the right won’t be satisfied, and there aren’t that many people in the middle anymore.”
He and Lucas are considering bypassing the House floor, which would avoid fights over amendments, and going straight to a conference with the Senate. That’s how the transportation bill was handled, but Peterson says it’s unlikely Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., would agree to do that for the farm bill. A GOP leadership aide told Roll Call that House leaders are not considering that option.
Bypassing House Risks Backlash, Say Farm Bill Veterans. Conner sounded a cautionary note about bypassing the House floor when asked about it at the American Soybean Association meeting. “We need to be careful about those processes, particularly in the House, particularly given the climate that we’re in, that would be viewed as bypassing the normal legislative procedure and denying people the opportunity to have their voice. … We would have to make sure that wouldn’t bite us in the keister in the long term.”
Another veteran of farm bill debates, Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, doesn’t think House leaders would even try to sidestep a floor debate. “There’s no indication that leadership is seriously considering bypassing the floor or that Republican leadership would be able to permit anything less than a full and fair debate, as the Senate did,” Faber said, adding, “There would be a bipartisan chorus of opposition to avoiding floor consideration.”
Conner said it’s unlikely Congress can finish the bill before it adjourns, although it’s possible it could be added in a lame duck session in a larger bill to address expiring tax cuts and other issues. “The clock is ticking and ticking against us at this point,” he said.