Remember the failure of the Farm Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives? And the uncertainty of the way forward? Two weeks ago, I wrote: “Fiscal conservatives are suggesting to split the bill in two, thereby divorcing the historically-married issues of farm support and food stamp programs. However, the combination of these two in one bill has until now ensured a compromise that enabled the bill to be passed in the first place, since Republicans, favoring large-scale producer support, and Democrats, which feel strongly about social support through food stamps, historically left each other their pet issues as long as their own was also included. How the conservatives expect to pass not one but two bills, taking away the compromise solution, is not clear to me.“
But this is exactly what happened.
In order to get a move on the Farm Bill and to rally their Republican representatives, the Speaker John Boehner and the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pushed for passing a replica of the Farm Bill that failed last time, minus all of the nutrition titles (the food stamp program, which has accounted for more than 70% of the expenditures of the Farm Bill). This would ensure that the Tea Party Republicans who had voted against it last time because a $20 billion cut in food stamps did not go far enough for them would be in favor this time.
Their calculation succeeded insofar as they were able to pass the bill with 216 to 208 votes, but the bill had no Democrats voting for it and 12 Republicans still voting against. As for the food stamp program, as Boehner put it, “we’ll get to that later.” Thus, the ‘new’ House farm bill only encompasses $195.6 billion over 10 years that will be given in subsidies for crop insurance and commodities to big producers, and for now ignores the urban poor that cannot afford to buy the food they produce.
Whether the divorce of the two issues is good or bad per se is a hot topic, and Civil Eats has an interesting commentary on whether splitting them up isn’t actually a blessing in disguise, since it “signals an end to an old alliance that kept change from happening. Without that roadblock, a united food movement may be able to push for farm and food policies that will actually support food justice, rural renewal, human health and community resilience instead of lining the pockets of the nation’s most powerful factory farms and food corporations.” Yet, as of now, only the latter has been accomplished by the House and not the former, so I remain on the fence on whether disentangling this weird alliance would actually lead to feasible improvements.
As the New York Times describes, all changes of the (failed) Bill from June were kept, and amendments were not allowed. Thus, “the bill would save about $20 billion by consolidating or cutting numerous farm subsidy programs, including $5 billion paid annually to farmers and landowners whether they plant crops or not.
The money saved from eliminating those payments would be directed into the $9 billion crop insurance program, and new subsidies would be created for peanut, cotton and rice farmers. The bill adds money to support fruit and vegetable growers, and it restores insurance programs for livestock producers, which expired in 2011, leaving thousands of operations without disaster coverage during last year’s drought. The bill also made changes to a dairy program that sets limits to the amount of milk produced and sold in the United States.”
In addition, the Bill nixed the provision that the 1949 “permanent law” enters into force if legislators can’t find a solution (observers fear that without this provision, there is no real incentive for Congress to pass a farm bill on time), and requires “additional economic and scientific analyses before a 2010 law to improve the food safety system goes into effect,” which could effectively halt implementation of this law that was supposed to give the Food and Drug Administration more oversight over the food system.
As a scathing New York Times editorial points out, the House and the Senate still have to negotiate and meet on common ground, and since the food stamp program constitutes the vast majority of the Senate’s Bill, it is pretty likely that food stamps will be reintroduced to the bill during their talks. As the Editorial Board points out,
Since compassion is no longer an incentive for the House, the threat of a cutoff to the big lobbyists will have to work, just as it always has.