U.S. House Plans New Farm Bill Without Food Stamps

By Don Davis

The Republican-controlled U.S. House planned today to debate farm funding programs over strong objections from Democrats, including the president.

A late Wednesday decision by the House Rules Committee sent the farm bill to the full House, first for a parliamentary debate and, if that passes, for a vote on the bill itself.

The bill the committee approved only would fund farm programs. Committee members removed funds for food stamps and other nutrition programs and the committee banned amendments that could put the funding into the bill.

The White House said the bill without food stamp funding would be vetoed if it reaches the president’s desk.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a western Minnesotan and top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, was not happy with the developments.

“I still believe splitting the farm bill is a mistake in the long run,” Peterson said. “They are ignoring the advice of most of the groups affected by the bill and I see no clear path to getting a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president.”

The nutrition and farm programs have been in one bill since 1977 in an effort to get support from both urban and rural lawmakers.

“It violates a decades-old principle that united urban and rural interests together feeding hungry people,” Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., said.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he also strongly opposes the move “because it increases hunger in America.”

Debate today followed multiple news reports Wednesday indicating that Republicans did not have enough votes to pass the farm bill.

The combined farm-nutrition bill failed June 20 after Republicans who control the House tacked on an amendment that Democrats claimed would make it more difficult for some Americans to get food stamps. Several Democrats voted against the bill last month because of the amendment, which defeated it.

Peterson said that if the amendment were removed, the Democrats would return to supporting the bill.

However, the Rules Committee’s decision to remove nutrition programs could cost nearly all Democratic votes.

Debate on the bill could begin at mid-day today.

Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said if the farm bill passes, it would be negotiated with the Senate, which passed the farm bill with nutrition programs. He said that means food stamps funding still could pass.

The House nutrition provision, which was dropped, would cut $20 billion from food stamps in the next 10 years. The Senate-passed measure would cut $4 billion.

President Barack Obama wants food stamp provisions added back into the bill and also has problems with the farm programs.

In a statement, the White House said it would veto the 608-page farm subsidy bill because it “does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms” and it omitted food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“This bill … fails to reauthorize nutrition programs, which benefit millions of Americans – in rural, suburban and urban areas alike,” said the White House. “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a cornerstone of our nation’s food assistance safety net, and should not be left behind as the rest of the Farm Bill advances.”

The farm subsidy bill would cut spending by $14 billion over 10 years, chiefly by ending the $5 billion a year “direct payment” subsidy. It would expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program by 10 percent, or $9 billion, over 10 years, including a provision that would shield crop revenue from drops of more than 11 percent of average.

Reuters news service contributed to this story.