CHN: Congress Leaves Without Passing Farm Bill

Article from the August 7, 2012 edition of the CHN Human Needs Report:
Congress left for the August recess without coming to agreement on a Farm Bill.  The current 5-year bill is set to expire on September 30th. That leaves the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) funding and other farm programs unresolved until Congress returns in September. On August 2nd, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told Congressional Quarterly reporters that “the House is pretty well divided” because of proposed cuts to SNAP. The farm bill contained over $16 billion in cuts to SNAP and the free school lunch program over 10 years.  Conservatives want that number to go higher and Democrats would prefer it to go lower.

Nutrition cuts weren’t the only thing dividing Congress on the Farm Bill. Despite a severe drought and sense of urgency to deal with disaster relief aid for farmers, the House and Senate also failed to agree on an aid package for drought relief. House Republicans proposed a one-year extension (H.R. 6228) in order to move the Farm Bill forward before the August recess, but did not get support from farmers or nutrition advocates for the plan. On July 26, House Republicans decoupled the farm bill from the disaster relief aid, pushing the Farm Bill to the sidelines and passing an aid-only bill instead (H.R. 6233). This House tactic could have forced the Senate to pass a bill before recess began, but Senate Democrats refused to take up the stand-alone bill because of many dividing factors. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said that she would not pass a bill that only covers help for some producers. In particular she was concerned that the aid package did not include fruit and vegetable growers and dairy producers, many of whom are her constituents. The House-passed aid bill would cut the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program by $639 million, providing $383 million to disaster aid and using the remainder for deficit reduction. Farm groups are concerned that this would just add to the cuts they are already expecting in a new Farm Bill. Some were also concerned that passing a short-term measure might delay a long-term, comprehensive bill.

It is unclear how the House and Senate will come to agreement on an extension of the Farm Bill before it expires but Chairwoman Stabenow has reiterated her commitment to working out a deal before the end of September. Agriculture Committee leaders could bypass House floor action, write their own compromise bill and attach it to “must-pass” legislation, but it is unlikely that this process will occur because Stabenow has said that the House must take action on the Farm Bill before a deal can be struck.

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