January 31, 2014
Earlier this week, the Farm Bill conference report was approved by the House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote of 251-166. In sum, 162 Republicans and 89 Democrats voted to pass the final farm bill and send it on to the Senate, with 63 Republicans and 103 Democrats voting no.
The majority of votes in favor was momentous after a long, winding and tortuous two-and-a-half-year House process of fits and starts on the farm bill. Given the entrenched debate the House has engaged in over the farm bill to date, it is not all that surprising that this week’s vote represents the most number of members who voted against any farm bill since 1981. Nonetheless, the final farm bill (H.R.2642, Agricultural Act of 2014) was ultimately embraced by a strong majority of House Republicans members many of whom had voted down a similar farm bill last year.
Although a majority of Democrats opposed the bill, notable Democrats who supported the measure included top party leaders, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D- CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the assistant Democratic leader. Democratic opposition centered on the $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the lack of farm subsidy reform, including especially the elimination of the payment limitation reform included in both the House and Senate-passed farm bills but gutted in the House-Senate conference and thus the final bill.
There were clear victories for priorities that fell on both sides of the aisle, and for programs that appealed to members representing major regions of the country, including: a boost in money for subsidized crop insurance that had wide appeal everywhere; higher government set commodity target prices and a lucrative new cotton insurance subsidy program that appealed particularly to Southern commodity farmers; and renewal of federal land payments for Western states. Additionally, re-linking soil and wetland conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies gave conservation groups and their congressional supporters something to cheer about.
Weighing heavily on our minds were all the previously stranded programs that have lacked any funding at all since Congress passed a one-year extension of the old farm bill at the end of 2012 that left most sustainable farm and food system programs with no money. In the NSAC letter to Congress, we reluctantly urged Members to vote yes in order to renew funding for those programs and enact many other important policy improvements that we have worked long and hard on to win in this farm bill. At the same time, however, we noted with bitter disappointment the decision of the final farm bill negotiators to pull out nearly all of the subsidy reform included in one or both bills. NSAC issued a similar press statement that echoed these positions.
The Bill is projected to easily pass in the Senate, with a cloture vote anticipated to take place on Monday, the roll-call vote on Tuesday, and the bill sent to President Obama for his signature before the close of next week. White House spokespeople have indicated that the President will sign the bill into law.
Ultimately, the consensus among leaders from both parties was that the noted imperfections did not outweigh the imperative to pass a farm bill to provide a level of certainty to farmers and all the other farm bill constituencies. After two and a half long years of what should have been a much quicker process, the prevailing mood was one of farm bill fatigue and wanting to get something done and to move on.
We have also published a blog today that summarizes the content of the bill on our priorities, and over the next two weeks will be issuing more detailed treatments on particular areas of interest for sustainable agriculture and food system advocates.
Categories: Farm Bill