House passes Republican farm bill without food stamp aid

House Republicans passed a five-year U.S. farm-policy bill that retains subsidies to farmers and strips out food-stamp spending, costing it Democratic support.

The plan was approved today 216-208, with all Democrats and 12 Republicans in opposition. The measure also would repeal underlying provisions that potentially would double milk prices when a new law isn’t passed. The measure, scaled back after the House defeated a bill that included food stamps three weeks ago, is “extremely flawed,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“The bill passed by the House today is not a real farm bill and is an insult to rural America,” the Michigan Democrat, who will lead Senate negotiators to work out a final bill with House lawmakers, said in a statement after the vote.

The legislation, which benefits crop buyers such as Archer- Daniels-Midland Co. and insurers including Wells Fargo & Co., has been working through Congress for almost two years. The Senate on June 10 passed S. 954, a plan that would cost $955 billion over a decade. Current law begins to expire Sept. 30.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto the farm measure that excludes food stamp and nutrition programs.

Action Stymied

House action has been stymied largely by disagreements on food stamps. The legislation rejected last month, H.R. 1947, would cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, responsible for more than three-quarters of the bill’s costs, by about 2.5%, roughly $2 billion a year. Democrats who balked at the reductions joined Republicans objecting to the plan’s cost to scuttle the bill. Republican leaders revived the measure in scaled-back form.

The stripped-down plan gained support from Republicans willing to deal with food stamps later. “It’s not a secret I am not a fan of the farm bill,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who opposed the June version and supported the bill today. “I’ve learned around here that you rarely get to vote for success but you can vote for progress.”

Republicans working to round up votes said the revised version was written to avoid the expiration of farm programs in the future. The plan would repeal language that lets federal policy revert to provisions established in 1938 and 1949, when the nation and its farm economy were different.

Milk Prices

The threat of allowing those old laws to resume has helped prod Congress to modernize farm-subsidy and farm-loan programs, since the laws set terms that could double the wholesale price of milk starting next year. The House plan would do away with that leverage, said Representative Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican.

Beyond that, the bill is basically the same as the previous farm-policy measure. It would end direct payments to U.S. farmers and expand a crop insurance-based crop safety net.

Farm-policy legislation without food stamps has been opposed by groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farmer organization. “The ‘marriage’ between the nutrition and farm communities and our constituents in developing and adopting comprehensive farm legislation has been an effective, balanced arrangement for decades that has worked to ensure all Americans and the nation benefits,” Bob Stallman, president of the Washington-based group, wrote today in a letter to House members.

Pork Producers

Last week, more than 530 groups signed a letter of opposition to the plan, while other organizations, including the Texas Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council, supported it. While sidestepping food stamps for the moment, some small-government advocacy groups that have called for their reform said they don’t like the possibility that a later House- Senate conference committee could go its own way.

“We highly suspect that this whole process is a ‘rope-a- dope’ exercise” of “splitting up the farm bill only as a means to get to conference with the Senate where a bicameral back-room deal will reassemble the commodity and food stamp titles, leaving us back where we started,” one of those groups, the Club for Growth, said in a statement.

Still, simple approval of a plan that has struggled to get anywhere in the House was seen as a victory by some lawmakers. “Thank God we can do something,” said Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, said as he walked off the House floor.

The House legislation is H.R. 2642.

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