On Wednesday, June 19, the House of Representatives passed the rule governing debate on the farm bill and began debate on scores of amendments.
The rule governing the debate and specifying which amendments would and would not be debated and voted on, was approved by a primarily party line vote of 239-177, with 15 Democrats voting yes, and 4 Republicans voting no.
Some amendment votes occurred on Wednesday and more will occur on Thursday. Whether a vote on final passage occurs Thursday or gets put off until next Tuesday remains an open question, though increasingly it looks like it will finish Thursday.
The debate and vote on the biggest farm subsidy reform amendment is still pending and that debate and vote will occur toward the conclusion of the proceedings. The amendment by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) would reform the commodity program payment limitation, lowering the amount of payments any one farm can receive and closing the loopholes currently in law that allow mega farms to collect many multiples of the current limitation.
A letter in support of the amendment has been submitted by NSAC, National Farmers Union, National Grange, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Center for Rural Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Izaak Walton League of America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Oxfam America, and others. An NSAC fact sheet on the amendment is available here.
Sadly, in Wednesday’s proceedings, the amendment submitted by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) to re-attach conservation accountability to the receipt of crop and revenue insurance subsidies was withdrawn after Thompson announced he was taking his name off the amendment at the very last minute. The sudden last-minute retreat from this other subsidy reform amendment that had an excellent chance of passage is testament to the continuing power of agribusiness to go to the mat when needed to thwart majority opinion.
The biggest story of the House farm bill debate continues to be what is not being debated at all. As we reported earlier, the House Rules Committee bottled up the major reform amendments that had strong support and excellent chances for passage by simply taking them off the docket, betraying the House Republican leadership claim that there would be full and open debate on the full range of substantive amendments.
Also on Wednesday during consideration of conservation title amendments, the House today defeated two amendments by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that attempted to reform and improve the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The amendments were defeated 179 – 242 (a party line vote except for the nine Republicans voting in favor and 20 Democrats voting against) and 157-256 (with three Republicans voting yes, and 37 Democrats voting no), respectively.
Earlier Wednesday, an amendment by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) to remove the bill’s $20 billion cut to SNAP (food stamps) was defeated on partisan grounds188-234 (with 5 Republicans voting yes, and eight Democrats voting no).
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) was successful in gaining a positive voice vote approval of her amendment to ensure that money continues to be available for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Another successful amendment adopted by voice vote was one by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) to require more complete scientific and economic analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s new proposed food safety regulations.
Accepted as part of a large “en bloc” amendment that packaged 40 small amendments together into a single voice vote were amendments by Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) to increase the floor on wildlife habitat spending within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to reauthorize USDA research on antibiotic resistance, and Rep. Dave Loesback (D-IA) to allow feasibility studies within the Rural Energy for America Program. Also approved in the en bloc amendment was a harmful amendment by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) to reduce the level of wetland mitigation required when farmers drain wetlands in order to increase production.
The House will continue voting Thursday morning on amendments that were already debated on Wednesday. Those include two Republican-led amendments that would strike the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Healthy Food Financing Initiative from the bill. NSAC has voiced its strong opposition to both of those amendments.
The House will also move to what will be the big votes on this farm bill. First up will be an amendment to reduce price support levels and make other changes to the sugar program, then one to remove the supply management portion of the new dairy program included in the underlying bill, followed by the Fortenberry payment limit reform amendment. Closing out the deliberations will be two amendments to cut the SNAP program even more than in the underlying bill. Once those votes have taken place, the House will proceed to a vote on final passage, likely on Thursday or if necessary next Tuesday.