Partisan Rancor Prevents a Meaningful Farm Bill

If you have been following the farm bill process then you know it has been a rough and pretty interesting debate. On the eve of the August Congressional Recess, here's a report on how things stand.

On June 20, 2013, the US House of Representatives rejected passage of the farm bill by a vote of 234-195. The bill was defeated largely because of the huge cuts and changes to the nutrition title, the legislative section that provides for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and other nutrition programs for low-income families.

The US House of Representatives came back at it, and on July 11, 2013, passed a farm bill on the second try this year by a vote of 216-208. This farm bill, however, was missing the nutrition title, and no amendments were allowed to be offered on the floor during debate.

An amendment introduced by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) in the earlier farm bill debate – the one that failed – was retained in this bill. It places meaningful limits on how much any one farm operation can receive in federal farm program payments. Rep. Fortenberry’s determined championing of farm program payment limit reform is laudable and a bright spot in what otherwise was a discouraging debate over farm, food, and rural policy.

Sadly, the House farm bill fails to hold crop insurance premium subsidies to the same standard as farm program payments, continuing to allow the nation’s largest farms and wealthiest farmers to receive crop insurance premium subsidies every year on every acre regardless of price, production, or profitability, with no limits whatsoever.

Moreover, the House farm bill fails to tie crop insurance to conservation compliance or to prevent breaking of native grassland for crop production. It also fails to adequately invest in conservation and rural development, small business development in particular.

Arguably, the ugliest facet of this farm bill process was the turn toward partisan rancor. In the end, every House Democrat voted against the bill. All but 12 Republicans voted in favor. The farm bill should reflect rural America’s priorities and not get bogged down in petty partisan politics.

What is next? That remains to be seen. We do know the US House of Representatives sent their bill to the US Senate on July 16, 2013. That gets them closer to going to conference committee with the Senate to work out the differences. But therein is the key question – how do they resolve the differences in such vastly different bills? Stay tuned and we will keep you posted.