News broke yesterday that the House will proceed with consideration of a “farm only” Farm Bill after deciding to split the agriculture and nutrition portions. The combined package failed on the House floor last month after several key crop insurance reforms were narrowly defeated and additional food stamp cuts were added.
While conservatives long have supported bifurcating the bill in this manner, the early word is that the farm portion was going to be considered under a closed rule, meaning no amendments whatsoever would be considered. That’s why we at R Street spearheaded a coalition letter of more than 20 conservative and libertarian organizations and thought leaders urging the House to pursue an open process for the bill.
The entire point of splitting the bills in the first place was to secure more serious reforms than were possible in combined legislation, due to the unique rural-urban coalition that existed for the broad package. Splitting the bills and then immediately closing off any avenues to reform just defeats the purpose.
Policy Improvements Closed Off
If the House pursues this method, here are the top seven amendments that would improve policy substantially that they’ll never even get a chance to weigh in on. Most of these were simply stonewalled by the House Rules Committee; a few were withdrawn; and others were combined into a larger package that made it impossible to deal with them individually. What they all have in common is that they never received votes the last time around and never will if a farm-only bill truly proceeds under a closed rule.
Chaffetz-Blumenauer crop insurance means testing: Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) teamed up to craft a commonsense amendment that would begin phasing out crop insurance premium subsidies at an adjusted gross income of $250,000. This measure would have saved billions of dollars by trimming subsidies for wealthy farmers, thus preserving the farm safety net for operators who might actually need it. Despite being bipartisan in nature and attracting a wide range of support, this amendment was NOT ruled in order during the original Farm Bill debate and so the House never was able to process it.
Hanna-Pingree crop insurance means testing: Reps. Richard Hanna (R-NY) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) drafted a similar amendment, but in their case it would have enacted a reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies for those with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $750,000. This matched the Senate-passed language sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and represented a very modest attempt to trim back subsidies for successful farmers. Instead of paying 62 percent of their premiums, on average, taxpayers would pay 47 percent for those over the income threshold. Hardly draconian stuff. Despite this amendment being bipartisan, it also was NOT ruled in order and so the House never had a chance to vote on mirroring Senate action.
Kind-Petri-DeLauro crop insurance subsidy payment limit: Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI), Tom Petri (R-WI), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) drafted a related amendment to cap total crop insurance premium subsidies at $50,000. It operates on the same principle (trimming subsidies for big operators), is also bipartisan and also was NOT ruled in order during last month’s debate.
Fortenberry-Thompson conservation compliance: Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced an amendment to attach so-called “conservation compliance” standards to crop insurance. Conservation compliance is a subsidy restriction that requires farmers who accept taxpayer dollars and choose to farm on certain sensitive lands to abide by conservation requirements to prevent erosion and damage. The amendment would thus reduce taxpayer liabilities. Despite bipartisan support in the House, the Senate-passed bill including such language, and almost unanimous support for the concept from outside groups (including farm bureaus, conservation groups, conservative organizations and others), Thompson bizarrely withdrew the amendment at the last moment. Thus, the House never had a chance to address this no-brainer pro-taxpayer and pro-environment measure.
Schweikert-Speier-Kind-DeLauro crop insurance transparency: Reps. David Schweikert (R-AR), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) proposed an amendment to ensure full transparency in the crop insurance program because taxpayers deserve to know where their dollars are going. Despite being a strong bipartisan effort, this amendment also was NOT ruled in order and the House never considered it.
Duncan-Waxman “harvest price option” elimination: Reps. John Duncan (R-TN) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) teamed up to draft an amendment eliminating taxpayer subsidies for so-called “harvest price option” crop insurance plans. These “Cadillac” plans allowed farmers to realize payouts at prices higher than they anticipated at planting time, leading to huge additional costs for taxpayers. Again, this smart bipartisan amendment was NOT ruled in order and the House never dealt with it.
Kind-Blumenauer-DeFazio-Larson “Brazil Cotton Institute” payments: Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and John Larson (D-CN) combined to propose an amendment eliminating the hundreds of millions of dollars we pay to the “Brazil Cotton Institute” to ward off international trade sanctions resulting from our distortionary farm subsidies. In order to convince them not to bring suit (a suit which they would undoubtedly win), the government pays Brazil substantial amounts of money each year to keep silent. This amendment was NOT ruled in order and the House never processed it.
Barely Scratches Surface
This doesn’t even begin to touch on the many amendments that were already voted on in some form or fashion but for which the politics of support and opposition might have changed now that ag policy is untethered from food stamps. Some, like a sugar reform amendment by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), or the AFFIRM Act crop insurance reform package (which included means-testing, a payment limit, full transparency, and reduction of industry payments) sadly failed during the original Farm Bill process. But it’s conceivable they might garner more support now that their inclusion doesn’t have any impact on nutrition policy, which comprised nearly 80 percent of the previous combined bill and thus tended to dominate proceedings.
All of this is to say that the House should have an open process on the Farm Bill, period. It’s too expensive and too important to just plow forward without any chance for substantial reform. If they ignore our advice, the result will not only be a bad bill, but one that is quite clearly situated to the left of the Senate-passed agriculture language. It will include NO means-testing of crop insurance at all (while the Senate reduces subsidies after $750,000 in income) and the so-called “shallow loss” provisions are poorly structured and much more expensive.
Needless to say, this is not what conservatives had in mind when advocating for separating ag and nutrition policy.
Andrew Moylan ([email protected]) is outreach director and a senior fellow at the R Street Institute. Used with permission of RStreet.org.