Skip to comments.Crucial decision on $939 billion farm bill looms for Boehner
Posted on 07/07/2013 4:46:39 AM PDT by onyx
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) faces a crucial choice in the coming days: what to do with the $939 billion farm bill. [WATCH VIDEO]
The bill failed on the House floor last month in a 195 to 234 vote, spurring conservative calls for Boehner to split the legislation into farm spending and food stamps before it is brought back to the floor.
Behind the scenes, the fight over the bill is pitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) against Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). While Cantor wants to divide the bill and cut more spending, Lucas wants to keep it intact with only modest changes.
Boehner is under pressure from all sides.
The Speaker received a letter this week from 532 farm groups demanding he bring the farm bill back to the floor without changes.
Conservative Tea Party activists, meanwhile, are pushing him to strip out the more than $800 billion in food stamp spending in the farm bill and put it in a separate measure with deeper cuts.
Splitting the bill would risk breaking apart the urban-rural coalition that has ensured passage of farm spending for more than four decades. Conservative activists believe breaking the alliance would allow them to slash two sources of wasteful government spending.
The decision is important for both political and policy reasons.
Politically, the farm bills failure on the floor raised questions about Boehners ability to lead his restive conference. Questions about the Speakers power and influence loom large as Congress moves toward tough votes this fall on preventing a government shutdown and raising the nations $16.4 trillion debt ceiling.
On the policy side, the biggest issue is the food stamp program, which is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and makes up more than 80 percent of the spending in the farm bill.
The House Agriculture Committee bill cut the program by $20.5 billion over 10 years, about $16 billion more than the version of the farm bill that passed the Senate with 66 votes.
The House bill cuts the program mainly by limiting eligibility. First, it reduces the ability of those receiving home heating assistance to automatically qualify for food stamps. Second, it would force potential recipients to apply for food stamps separately, rather than allowing them to qualify for multiple assistance programs at once.
Rural Democrats led by Rep. Colin Peterson (R-Minn.) claimed that around 40 Democrats were prepared to accept the $20.5 billion in cuts with the knowledge that they would likely be reduced in a House-Senate bill conference.
But before the vote last month, House Republicans approved an amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Ill.) that Peterson said was a poison pill. The amendment would allow states to require adult food stamp recipients to either find work or enroll in job training, and would give states a financial incentive to reduce enrollment.
Only 24 Democrats voted for the farm bill, and conservative defections piled up once it became clear the bill would fail.
Democrats might have some advantage in the food stamp fight because failing to pass a farm bill would not end SNAP. As an entitlement, it would continue after Sept. 30 on autopilot.
The House and Senate farm bills are very similar in how they deal with subsidies, energy, credit, disaster aid, international aid, rural development and conservation. These programs expire Sept. 30 without reauthorization, and farmers say they are struggling to plan with the legislation in limbo.
Both farm bills would generate $40 billion in savings by ending the direct payment program. Farm lobbyists are worried that extending the existing program would leave them at risk of someday having no subsidies at all, since direct payments have, in their words, become politically toxic.
The direct payment program was instituted in the 2002 farm bill in response to pressure from World Trade Organization trading partners who argued that traditional subsidies that varied based on how much farmers produced distorted trade.
The direct payment program is paid based on historical acres of production, not planted acres. Corn producers are by far the biggest recipients of the aid, with wheat coming in second and soy and cotton in third.
While the direct payments satisfied WTO critics, it is one program that just about everyone in Congress agrees should be cut.
Critics have made the program the poster child for wasteful government spending, and note that wealthy urbanites no longer engaged in farming have received the payments.
The budgets from both President Obama and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) find savings from ending the payments, as does the main House Democratic plan for replacing budget sequestration.
Because of the costs of the new subsidies, the Congressional Budget Offices scores the Senate bill as cutting $17 billion from the deficit and the House bill as cutting $32 billion. Some fiscal hawks say that the estimates are overly rosy and that adverse condition could balloon the costs of the new programs.
The replacement for direct payments has been the subject of fierce battles between northern crops like corn and southern crops like peanuts and cotton. This year, a revenue based insurance program favored by farmers in the North is found in both the House and Senate bills.
Southern commodity farmers, meanwhile, are pleased that target price-based supports are kept and prices are updated in a way that will likely increase payments in the future.
To satisfy cotton growers, lawmakers included a special program called Stacked Income Protection, and they alone are allowed direct payments during a transition period. The U.S. lost a WTO case with Brazil over cotton subsidies and is paying Brazilian cotton farmers $147 million a year in penalties until the program is changed.
On conservation, the House bill cuts about $1.3 billion more from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Those programs pay farmers not to farm arable land in order to increase natural habitats, and environmental groups want the cuts reversed,
Aside from the main fights over food stamps and farm subsidies, the farm bill is the site of other pitched battles.
Milk producers and dairy-using industries have fought over how to replace traditional milk price supports. Boehner personally lobbied for an amendment on the House floor to remove the supply management provision aimed at boosting milk prices. That amendment passed 291-135.
Another major fight pits sugar users against sugar farmers. An amendment to end the Feedstock Flexibility program, which forces the government to buy up sugar and resell it to biofuels producers, was narrowly defeated in the House on a 206-221 vote.
Finally, the farm bill governs how the U.S. provides food aid. The Obama administration has proposed reforming the program to give the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) flexibility to spend aid dollars by buying food abroad. Critics say the current system, which requires the purchase and shipping of U.S. farm goods, is too costly and actually injures third world farmers by dumping free commodities in local markets.
An amendment by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) would have allowed up to 45 percent of food aid to be purchased abroad, but it was defeated on a 203-220 vote.
Don’t you worry about a thing.
Boner will do the wrong thing.
Doesn’t he always?
What are the chances?
If principled people could win elections, they would study the situation and do what they thought was best for us. We’ve got Boehner.
Would prefer instead of cuts to see the bill doubled or quadrupled, and thus guarantee it going down in flames.
What is good for the NATION means nothing.
What is good for the POLITICIAN’s career is paramount.
Another large complicated bill in the hundreds of billion dollars range to buy votes for reelection by spending money that we do not have.
If each of these items are needed then they need to be separate bills. Instead the pols get to hide what they vote for from their constituents.
If you ever needed to know where this country went off the rails...
The bill failed on the House floor last month in a 195 to 234 vote, spurring conservative calls for Boehner to split the legislation into farm spending and food stamps before it is brought back to the floor. Behind the scenes, the fight over the bill is pitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) against Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). While Cantor wants to divide the bill and cut more spending, Lucas wants to keep it intact with only modest changes.Obviously there are plenty of FINOs who would prefer a flat-out dictatorship, instead of the wheelin' dealin' representative form of government we have.
My take is that the bill is laden with layer on layer of historical compromise. Each layer of each layer is precedent for the under layers.
There is no “good for the nation”. The layer on layer on layer is this group against that group disfavoring a third group that presents unrelated desires into the negotiating chaos. The bill is in effect the nation against it’s self.
The complexity stems from each of the 457 districts having constituents with a compromised layer or partial layer.
The question then becomes do we throw it out and destroy the precedent and thus the negotiated compromise or start from scratch? If major portions are determined to do over from scratch, then it all is up for grabs and renegotiation and new compromise on a massive bipartisan scale.
The result could mean that nothing else gets done by the Congress while this monster gets all sorted out and redone.
It is easy to be critical but the Speaker has a very difficult task ahead charting the path forward.
...in Congress, including the Senate, I agree 100%
The result could mean that nothing else gets done by the Congress while this monster gets all sorted out and redone.
Works for me.
Bills that essentially give taxpayer $$ to people to do nothing, artificially raise/depress prices, pay favors to ‘big farms’ (T. Turner, B. Springsteen, etc.)
Got an idea, since I don’t see WHERE Congress has the authority anyway, DON’T pass the damn bill. People start to charge and pay for the true cost of products. Let the market decide.
Two chances. Slim and fat.
The numbers, $800 billion in giveaways in a $939 billion misnamed “farm bill.” It’s clear that the bundling was intended to disguise the redistributionist purpose of the $800 billion. Split it up.
The only way for the House to generate any “savings” would be to not consider this bill or any replacement bill. Let the programs die.
That would be a first in this country.
Dozens of Republicans joined the Democrats to reject the bill in the vote a few weeks ago.
The Dems wanted more spending but the 62 Republicans said the bill was too fat.
A lot of conservative leaning “Tea Party” NO’s but one of them I noticed who voted YES was Steve King of Iowa.
Agricultural interests apparently have more say than any conservative convictions.
One NO vote came from freshman Congressman Keith Rothfus from western Pennsylvania. I supported him financially in 2010 and 2012.
It looks I made a good investment with that kind of vote.
Monsanto needs their welfare check to make more GMO crap. Big Ag can’t live without the billions they get each yr from taxpayers
The very best outcome would be to split the bill, then convert the food stamps part to a block grant to the states, with *incentives* for them to support their own agriculture by augmenting the food stamps with farm surpluses.
To explain this, America almost always has too much food, which is very stressful to our agriculture, because surplus can hurt farmers much worse than shortage. Using food stamps to primarily bleed off surplus won’t work, because people need a balanced diet. But they *can* be used to bleed of *some* of the surplus.
Say a state has a bumper crop of potatoes. Along with their food stamps, the state is given an incentive to buy up some of the surplus potato crop, to stabilize the price for farmers, then to give away the surplus as a bonus to the food stamp recipients. Hopefully with a piece of paper that tells them what they can do with potatoes.
Likewise, states can be encouraged to swap surplus products, say a surplus of potatoes in Idaho with a surplus of cheese in Wisconsin. Again, both surpluses going to their food stamp recipients, but helping both their potato farmers and cheese makers.
Ironically, a state surplus market would, by stabilizing markets, save many billions of dollars at the federal level in the other half of the agriculture bill. This is because much of the money in that bill is to stabilize markets; so if they are stable, it is unspent.
532 groups want this monster? There’s no way that many groups are dirt farmers. Assuming we need a non-constitutional farm bill at all the rest of that krap needs to stand on its own someplace else. Way past time for the adults to take a hard look at this money hole.