The U.S. House of Representatives this morning finally passed a nearly $1 trillion farm bill. The bill is expected to gain approval in the Senate next week and be signed into law by President Obama.
The bill cuts $8 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Not enough for Rep. Tom Cotton, whose appetite for slashing programs for poor people is not so easily sated (House Tea Partiers wanted at least $40 billion cut). Cotton voted no on the bipartisan deal, which passed easily 251-166. He was the only member of the Arkansas delegation to vote against it.
In addition to the SNAP funding, the bill makes some reforms to farm subsidies and provides billions in aid to farmers, making this a likely wedge issue in Cotton’s Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor. Here’s a statement from Pryor:
This farm bill means good jobs and economic security for families across Arkansas, and I’ve stood beside my Republican colleagues John Boozman, Rick Crawford, Steve Womack and Tim Griffin to get this bipartisan bill done for the people of our state.
In voting against the farm bill, Congressman Cotton once again sided with his special interest allies, the same Washington groups spending millions on his campaign that urged him to oppose the farm bill. It’s reckless and irresponsible for Congressman Cotton to put his own ambitions ahead of what’s best for Arkansans, and the people of our state deserve better.
Cotton’s backers Heritage Action and Club for Growth opposed the measure and stated that it would be included on their scorecards of members’ voting records (pause here laugh to keep from crying at the absurdity of elected officials worrying over what does or doesn’t count on a “scorecard”).
Cotton may have a little political cover here since his vote didn’t actually kill the bill, but “puts his own ideology over the interests of Arkansas farmers” would make for a snappy ad. Cotton will no doubt counter by demonizing food stamp beneficiaries. Remember, according to him, “we’ve all been in that situation” standing in line at Wal-Mart when some rogue poor person “has steak in their basket and they have a brand new I-phone and they’re going out to a brand new SUV” while hardworking families are stuck eating hamburger.
Here’s a statement from Cotton:
“Growing up on a farm in Yell County, I learned a simple lesson: you can’t spend more than you take in. That’s why I’ve worked hard to protect Arkansas taxpayers and that’s why I can’t support the food-stamp bill. This bill spends too much and leaves Arkansas farmers with too little. Arkansas farmers will receive barely 0.5% of its bloated $956 billion price tag—half of what they received in the 2008 bill. Also, it imposes unfair regulations on livestock producers, opening all Arkansas farmers to retaliatory tariffs. That’s one reason most livestock groups oppose the bill, as do countless Arkansas farmers I’ve heard from. And even a small dip in crop prices from the bill’s historically high target prices could leave taxpayers on the hook for tens of billions of dollars.
“This bill can only be called a food-stamp bill when nearly 80% of its funding doesn’t support farmers. Food-stamp spending has grown by 86% under President Obama and enrollment is at a record high, while 70% of adults who receive food stamps have been on the program for more than 5 years. Yet this bill fails to make real reforms—lacking even common-sense work requirements that would provide job training to able-bodied adults receiving food stamps.
“Arkansas taxpayers cannot continue to foot the bill for President Obama’s failed policies and Arkansas farmers shouldn’t be held hostage to President Obama’s runaway food-stamp program. I will continue to fight for policies that support Arkansas farmers and protect Arkansas taxpayers.”
Politico dissects the winners (soybean and catfish farmers, dairy food manufacturers, U.S. cattlemen and the organic food industry) and the losers (meat processors, folks who rely on food stamps) in the agreement.
I say this almost as a sad afterthought, but some Democrats opposed the bill because of the cuts to SNAP that remain in the compromise agreement. “This bill will make hunger worse in America, not better,” Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts said. The farm lobby packs just a little more political punch than poor folks.
Here’s Rep. Steve Womack on the farm bill: “In divided government each side has to find common ground. Ultimately this report, like many other bipartisan agreements that have been signed into law, moves the ball forward.”
In the Senate, John Boozman applauded the House for passing the farm bill and said the Senate should follow suit. Here’s his press release:
Boozman Urges Senate to Quickly Take-Up Farm Bill Conference Agreement
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) praised the House of Representatives for passing the Farm Bill and encouraged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to quickly bring the agreement to the Senate floor for consideration.
Last August, Boozman—a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee—was appointed to serve on the conference committee tasked with resolving the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill.
The agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators establishes a strong safety net for all agriculture producers; reforms the food stamp program; provides regulatory relief to farmers, ranchers and loggers–and does so while saving taxpayers $23 billion.
“No one is going to say this bill is perfect, but it is a good, fair bill that achieves real savings in mandatory spending, reduces and streamlines government programs and provides much-needed reform for the food stamp program,” Boozman said. “At the same time, this bill ensures the continued safety, affordability, and reliability of our food supply while protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities. So I was pleased that the House passed it today and will push for quick consideration in the Senate of this hard-fought agreement.”
The new Farm Bill replaces existing subsidy programs with revenue and price protection programs that are triggered only when farmers need assistance. As a result, Arkansas’s farmers and ranchers will continue to have access to the risk management tools they need to weather difficult times when the ability to thrive on their own in good times is compromised.
“Agriculture continues to be a major contributor to Arkansas’s economy, which makes this a much-needed jobs bill for our state. By providing certainty through a five year Farm Bill, Arkansas’s agriculture producers can plan for the future and make the decisions they need to in order to grow their businesses and hire more employees,” Boozman said.
The conference report also includes more than $8 billion in savings from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as the food stamp program, and includes more reform to the nutrition title than has been produced in any previous version.
By closing loopholes like those that enable college students without dependents to enroll in SNAP, adding work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries without dependents, and requiring income verification for applicants, the agreement reduces fraud and waste in the food stamp program while ensuring those truly in need of assistance will have access to resources to not go hungry.
“Too often, Washington gauges success by the amount of money you spend on a program, and not the outcome of the program. By closing loopholes and improving the integrity of the food stamp program, we can focus on helping those who truly are in need,” Boozman said.
The conservation title of the Farm Bill is critical for enabling our farmers and ranchers to continue to be our best stewards of the environment, keep our air and water clean, and preserve critical habitat for wildlife. However, over the years we have learned that there is duplication and excess in our current conservation program framework. By working with conservation and environmental groups, the agriculture committees were able to reduce the number of conservation programs by more than half while continuing to meet all of our conservation needs over the next five years.
“This bill also gets the EPA off the backs of our loggers and forestry industry,” Boozman said. “By prohibiting the EPA from issuing any permanent regulations that declare forest roads as a point source for pollution, this bill clears mountains of bureaucratic red tape for public-private partnerships to responsibly use our resources and practice healthy forest management. This creates jobs and economic growth in Arkansas’s forest communities.”