The federal farm bill usually receives bipartisan support because it includes food stamps and other programs desired by liberal politicians from urban areas, and commodity price supports and other programs desired by conservative politicians from rural and small-town areas.
This summer, though, it received bipartisan opposition as recently elected Republicans, who have more libertarian and free-market leanings than many of the people they replaced, opposed the bill precisely because of the farm subsidies. Democrats opposed it because of cuts to food stamp spending.
The U.S. House of Representatives in June voted 234 to 195 against the nearly $1 trillion farm bill. The Republican-controlled House then approved a farm-only farm bill, stripping out food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which had comprised about 80 percent of farm bill spending.
The New York Times called the vote a “stinging defeat” for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), as 62 of his fellow Republicans opposed the bill. The current farm bill, which became law in 2008, expires on September 30.
‘Farm Policy, Food Policy Different’
“As a fourth-generation farmer, I know first-hand how important the farm bill is for farmers but I also know that farm policy and food stamp policy are different. That’s why I am renewing my calls for Congress to have an up-or-down vote to split the farm bill into a true, farm-only farm bill and a separate food stamp bill. Separate consideration of these policies will allow us to forge ahead with real solutions and reform instead of repeating the mistakes of the past,” said Rep. Marlin Stuzman (R-IN) in a statement after his vote against the bill.
Top advisors to President Barack Obama issued a statement opposing the bill because it “would reduce access to food assistance for struggling families and their children. If the President was presented with HR 1947 [the House version of the bill], his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
The House’s rejection of the bill came less than two weeks after Senators passed S-954 (Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013) by a 66-27 margin. The bill would have spent $973 billion over 10 years.
“The legislation puts vital risk management tools and conservation programs back in place providing farmers and ranchers with the long-term certainty they need to produce food, fiber and fuel for our country and the world,” said Kansas Senator (R) Jerry Moran in a statement after the bill passed the Senate.
The American Farm Bureau Federation backed the bill. AFBF President Bob Stallman declared in a statement the bill “provides needed risk management tools and a viable economic safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
Policy Group Opposition
A variety of think tank and public policy organizations opposed the bill.
“The image of farmers lacking money and being destitute is a highly inaccurate one . . . The idea is that farm subsidies are something like welfare for poor farmers who are trying to put food on their plate — and the plates of millions of Americans. But the reality is just the opposite,” wrote Jeremy Kolassa, an associate fellow with the R Street Institute, on the Institute’s blog.
Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, also noted in a statement, “While the rest of the country has been in the economic doldrums for the past few years, farm country has seen record profits.”
Alexander added, “This is not over. The Senate passed a farm bill that is at least as bad as the House bill that failed. It’s time for Congress to scrap both bills and start again. As Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Peterson has pointed out several times, you don’t even need a farm bill. Most of the programs continue. So instead of sticking taxpayers with a trillion dollar farm bill that barely puts a dent in the deficit, lawmakers need go back to the drawing board and come up with something that is fiscally responsible and recognizes that the nation is facing a $16.8 trillion debt.”
John Skorburg ([email protected]) is associate editor of Budget & Tax News and a lecturer in economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.