House Republicans passed a five-year U.S. farm-policy bill that retains subsidies to farmers and strips out food-stamp spending, costing it Democratic support.
The plan was approved today 216-208, with no Democrats in support.
The measure also would repeal underlying provisions that potentially would double milk prices when a new law isn’t passed.
Breaking up the urban-rural coalition that for decades successfully negotiated similar bills will doom any chance the plan has to become law, said Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
“I see no clear path to getting a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President,” Peterson said yesterday.
The White House has threatened to veto the measure, which follows a House attempt to approve a plan that included food-stamp spending last month.
The legislation, which benefits crop buyers such as Archer- Daniels-Midland Co., grocers including Supervalu Inc. and insurers including Wells Fargo & Co., has been working through Congress for almost two years. The Senate on June 10 passed S. 954, a plan that would cost $955 billion over a decade. Current law begins to expire Sept. 30.
House action has been stymied largely because of food stamps. The legislation rejected last month, H.R. 1947, would cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, responsible for more than three-quarters of the bill’s costs, by about 2.5 percent, roughly $2 billion a year. Democrats who balked at the reductions joined Republicans objecting to the plan’s cost to scuttle the bill. Republican leaders revived the measure in scaled-back form.
Republicans working to round up votes for the new bill said it’s crafted to avoid the expiration of farm programs in the future. The plan would repeal language that lets federal policy revert to provisions established in 1938 and 1949, when the nation and its farm economy were different.
The threat of allowing those old laws to resume has helped prod Congress to modernize farm-subsidy and farm-loan programs, since the laws set terms that could double the wholesale price of milk starting next year.
“The one we pass now would be the permanent law,” Texas Republican Representative Michael Conaway said in an interview.
Beyond that, the bill is basically the same as the previous farm bill. It would end direct payments to U.S. farmers and expand a crop insurance-based crop safety net.
Farm-policy legislation without food stamps has been opposed by farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farmer organization. “The ‘marriage’ between the nutrition and farm communities and our constituents in developing and adopting comprehensive farm legislation has been an effective, balanced arrangement for decades that has worked to ensure all Americans and the nation benefits,” Bob Stallman, president of the Washington-based group, wrote today in a letter to House members.
Last week, more than 530 groups signed a letter of opposition to the plan.
While sidestepping food stamps for the moment, some small- government advocacy groups that have called for their reform said they don’t like the possibility that a later House-Senate conference committee could go its own way.
“We highly suspect that this whole process is a ‘rope-a- dope’ exercise” of “splitting up the farm bill only as a means to get to conference with the Senate where a bicameral back-room deal will reassemble the commodity and food stamp titles, leaving us back where we started,” one of those groups, the Club for Growth, said in a statement.
The House legislation is H.R. 2642.
With assistance from James Rowley in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Katherine Rizzo
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