The farm bill has been approved by a U.S. House of Representatives panel, but it faces a tough fight

WASHINGTON – Republicans sent a long-awaited novel farm bill through the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture this week despite opposition from most Democrats that could stall further work on the bill.

The massive $1.5 trillion legislation would set policy and funding levels for key food, agriculture and conservation programs for the next five years. After Thursday’s marathon, the GOP-authored bill cleared committee after midnight Friday, 33-91, with four Democratic votes.

The committee’s bill would escalate “safety net” farm payments for some commodity crops, expand eligibility for disaster relief and escalate funding for specialty crops, organic farmers and dairy farmers.

This is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Summary title by title 942-page bill can be found Here.

Democrats Don Davis of North Carolina, Bishop Sanford of Georgia, Yadira Caraveo of Colorado and Eric Sorenson of Illinois joined all Republicans on the committee to vote in favor of the bill.

After hours of heated debate and criticism from Democrats, the support from four lawmakers across the aisle seemed to catch House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican who was the bill’s lead sponsor, by surprise.

When the vote ended, his microphone brought him to the side: “It was bipartisan. I didn’t see this one coming.

Text of the agricultural bill published in the US House of Representatives, starting a fight with the Senate

Changes ahead

But lukewarm support from Democrats likely won’t be enough to get this version of the bill to final passage in the House.

A handful of Republicans typically oppose farm bills on fiscal grounds. Even Democrats who voted for the bill in a House committee said it would require major changes before it could become law.

This solution does not have the support of Democrats in the Senate or the White House.

“Everyone knows this bill will never become law. The Senate won’t accept it and the administration won’t accept it,” said Republican David Scott of Georgia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, at the markers. “And while this bill is a gigantic mistake, it nonetheless begins our journey toward passing a farm bill.”

While the House committee was debating the bill, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, said in an interview Thursday that the House proposal had no chance in the Senate.

“This breaks up the agriculture and food coalition and has no votes to pass in the House. And certainly not in the Senate,” Stabenow told States Newsroom.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack he said earlier this week that the farm bill would harm the coalition that has traditionally united behind farm bills and “increases the real risk that we will not be able to get a farm bill through this process.”

The committee vote – which came eight months after the previous farm bill expired – was the first step in what is expected to continue to be a protracted dispute over food and farm policy.

The act was supported by many groups dealing with agricultural raw materials, but it meets with opposition from groups promoting the problem of hunger, as well as fiscal conservatives.

The Heritage Foundation, the National Taxpayers Union and Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Environmental Working Group united this week to oppose the regulations, which they described as government bribes to privileged interests.

Groups representing a variety of ideologies argue that the proposed legislation would result in tens of billions of dollars in subsidies that would overwhelmingly go to a relatively petite number of farmers growing specific commodity crops.

Dispute over financing

Historically, farm bills have brought together lawmakers from different parties, uniting behind regional interests. The massive bill combines support for agricultural producers, energy and protection programs on agricultural land, and food and nutrition programs for needy families.

But committee members are deeply divided over limits on food and climate programs, which are the funding mechanisms for the Republican bill.

“From a policy standpoint, this is a very good bill,” said Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat from Minnesota. “But when it comes to payment, how do you get to the math?”

The key dispute for Democrats, it’s a funding calculation that would place limits on the formula that calculates benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, the food assistance program formerly called food stamps.

“One of the reasons this bill is so difficult to negotiate on the finer points is because there are fundamental flaws in the big items and the funding mechanism,” said Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine.

The bill would limit future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, the formula that calculates SNAP benefits. This would lead to nearly $30 billion in spending reductions over a decade, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, lawmakers say.

“If we want the farm bill to be passed at the bipartisan level necessary to advance beyond this committee, it is imperative that we return to the negotiating table and remove this provision,” Caraveo said.

Caraveo, who faces a tough re-election in a toss-up district, ultimately voted in favor of the bill.

Connecticut Democrat Jahana Hayes proposed an amendment that would make changes to the program. But after more than two hours of passionate debate on the issue on Thursday evening, the amendment was defeated by a party-line vote of 25 to 29.

The Farm Bill must remain budget neutral, so lawmakers must tailor their proposals to a baseline projection of how much the government will spend over the next 10 years if the current Farm Bill is extended.

The Republicans’ bill would offset the escalate in payments to farmers by imposing limits on SNAP and the discretionary account at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The bill passed by committee would impose limits on the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation’s discretionary account and waive climate policy requirements for approximately $13 billion in conservation projects funded under the Inflation Control Act.

“Farmers agree that this is good money that has gone to all of our states and is extremely important,” Pingree said. “So taking that power away from one agriculture secretary maybe because you don’t like one program is completely wrong. This is not thinking about the future.”

Slow progress in the Senate

On the Senate side, Stabenow published her own outline application to the farm bill in early May, but said it was waiting for Republican language before they could move forward.

Among other things, Stabenow’s bill would escalate eligibility for low-income people’s nutrition programs, such as SNAP. Stabenow published a summary of the bill, but not the legislative text.

Arkansas Republican John Boozman, the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Thursday that he supports the direction of the farm bill from the House Agriculture Committee but is not sanguine about quick action in his chamber.

“We have a lot of adversity,” Boozman said in an interview United Newsroom Thursday.

Boozman said he plans to snail-paced down the language in the coming weeks, but indicated lawmakers could be heading toward another extension if they can’t make progress quickly.

“When I go to farmer groups, I think their attitude is that instead of just doing something if it doesn’t make sense, it’s better to wait,” Boozman told States Newsroom. “It’s a five-year commitment. “And again, if we’re not going to make significant changes to improve farmer safety, it’s probably not worth doing.”

A matter of choices

The Farm Bill is generally considered mandatory legislation. Lawmakers must amend sweeping laws every five years to set mandatory funding levels and policies. The current farm bill expired at the end of September 2023, but most programs continued through extensions.

The current extension runs through the end of September, but it’s unclear whether lawmakers will meet that deadline – especially as attention shifts to the summer and fall election campaigns.

Votes for the farm bill could be fuel in the upcoming elections.

While the House committee was debating the measure on Thursday, the Republican candidate in the race to replace Stabenow in the Michigan U.S. Senate criticized Democratic candidate and committee member Elissa Slotkin for her stance on the bill. Republican Mike Rogers told X (formerly on Twitter) that Slotkin did not focus enough on the bill.

There are further negotiations ahead

As the House committee held a 13-hour debate on the farm bill’s tags, both Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that more negotiations would be necessary on the bill before it becomes law.

Rep. Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican and longtime committee member who chaired the panel from 2011 to 2015, characterized the committee’s vote as “the first step in a long road.”

“Now ultimately we have to work together to develop a comprehensive commission product,” Lucas said.

“As we begin this process, I want to remind all of my colleagues that the real fight is not here on the Agriculture Committee, but on the floor of the United States House and in the conference committee. We will resolve our differences with the United States Senate.”

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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