Can a spirit of compromise continue? The U.S. House of Representatives this week began debating its version of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (FARRM), following its passage through the House Agriculture Committee in May. The U.S. Senate passed their version of the bill last week.
The House Agriculture Committee showed a level of bipartisanship unusual in today’s politics by approving the bill with a vote of 36 to 10. Also, last week House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed his support for the House version of the bill, likely strengthening its chance for passage on the floor.
The committee’s leadership called for continued bipartisan action in bringing the bill to the House floor. “This bipartisan bill is four years in the making and I could not have had a better partner than my friend from Minnesota, Mr. Peterson,” said committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), in reference to Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)
“The FARRM Act is a different farm bill for different times,” Lucas says. “There is a reason we put reform in the title. This is the most reform-minded bill in decades. It repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining, and consolidating over 100 government programs. It reforms the SNAP program – also known as the food stamp program - for the first time since the welfare reforms of 1996. And, it makes tremendous reforms to farm programs.
“The Agriculture Committee and the agriculture community have voluntarily worked together to make these reforms and contribute to deficit reduction. Every part of this bill is a part of the solution to Washington’s spending problem. We save the American taxpayer nearly $40 billion, which is almost seven times the amount of cuts to these programs under sequestration.”
Peterson, in his opening statements, also called for House members to follow the committee’s lead by working toward compromise. “I often tell people that the Agriculture Committee is perhaps the least partisan of all the Committees in Congress. We listen to each other, try to understand each other and work together in the best interests of our constituents.
“The bill before us today is a compromise that reflects that tradition. It is a compromise between commodities and regions, and urban and rural members. I didn’t get everything I wanted; Chairman Lucas didn’t get everything he wanted but that’s how the legislative process is supposed to work.”
Peterson notes that with roughly 16 million American jobs tied to agriculture, the farm bill is a jobs bill. “The rural economy remained strong during our nation’s financial crisis and that has continued during our recovery; this is in large part due to agriculture. And this is why the farm bill is so important. Failing to pass a new, five-year farm bill could potentially devastate our rural economy. Why would we want to jeopardize the one part of the economy that has been, and continues to be, working?”
Lucas points out several reforms included in the House version of the bill.
- It eliminates direct payments costing $5 billion per year, substituting a “more market-oriented approach to policy where there is no support when market prices are high.”
- It repeals the ACRE program, the disaster program for crops, and the counter-cyclical program.
- It eliminates and consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13, which saves nearly $7 billion.
- It authorizes, strengthens, and fully pays for livestock disaster assistance.
- It invests in core specialty crop initiatives like Specialty Crop Block Grants and Plant Pest and Disease Management and Prevention Programs.
- The FARRM Act also reforms the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the Food Stamp program, for the first time in decades.
Spending reductions for SNAP account for the widest gap between the current House bill and the version passed out of the Senate. The Senate bill calls for about $4 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years, while the House version would cut spending on SNAP by $20.5 billion over the same period.