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The Numbers Behind the Farm Bill: Budget Questions, SNAP, and the Farm Bill Coalition

July 17, 2017

A shopper pays using a token that allows SNAP recipients to purchase fresh food at farmers markets. Credit: USDA

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a four-part series explaining the background budget information that will be used to craft the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. In this series on the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline for the major farm bill programs, we have explored the significance of the overall numbers, delved in on commodity and conservation program funding, and reviewed the set of programs that are funded directly by the farm bill but do not yet have permanent farm bill funding.

In this final post, we turn to the congressional budget process. The current debate over the budget resolution for fiscal year 2018 may contain instructions to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and thus has enormous implications for the 2018 Farm Bill.

What is the House GOP plan for the budget resolution?

Each year, Congress establishes the budget parameters for both discretionary (appropriated) and mandatory spending through a resolution (not a law). In recent years, the budget resolution process has often fallen apart without a joint budget resolution approved by both the House and Senate. This year may be no different, though time will tell. The process for the 2018 budget resolution is already much delayed. The congressional budget timeline calls for a final resolution in April, but here it is mid-July with no action taken as yet in either the House or Senate. Yet the majority party in both bodies desperately wants a budget resolution to pass – they plan to include in it the legislative fast track rules they have planned for tax reform or tax cut legislation later this year.

The Senate has taken no action on a budget resolution, while the House has for weeks been trying to get as far as the Budget Committee markup, with lots of jockeying back and forth on the issue of long-term cuts to mandatory spending. House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN) expects to release the draft bill this week, with a vote in committee sometime later in the week.

As part of that budget plan, the draft bill is widely expected to propose a 10-year $200 billion cut to domestic social programs that receive mandatory funding, with the cut spread over a wide number of safety net programs. Included in the mix is a cut to the farm bill that was negotiated between Black and Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-TX). Though neither has said what the precise farm bill number is, it has been widely rumored on Capitol Hill to be a $10 billion cut, all aimed specifically at the SNAP anti-hunger program.

How would the House GOP try to achieve the proposed SNAP cut?

Under the soon to be unveiled House GOP proposal, the $200 billion cut in domestic social programs, including the $10 billion cut to SNAP, would be achieved using the budget reconciliation process. Under reconciliation rules, each authorizing committee assigned cuts would be given a number to achieve and a date certain on which to report a measure achieving the cut, but would be free to design the cut in any fashion. The measures to achieve the cuts, as reported by each authorizing committee, are then combined into a single budget reconciliation bill by the Budget Committee and brought to the floor for a vote. Most importantly, under this process, when a budget reconciliation package is considered on the Senate floor, it is not subject to filibuster and thus requires a simple majority to pass rather than a 60-vote super majority.

Depending on the date dictated in the House budget resolution, the House Agriculture Committee could be asked to report a SNAP cut bill in advance of next year’s farm bill, or simultaneously with the farm bill, or even as part of the farm bill. In past experience with farm bills and budget reconciliation that include farm bill cuts, the reconciliation bills have occurred before, during, and after that farm bill, so anything is possible.

In terms of substance, the primary focus of any action by the House Agriculture Committee majority is expected to be on tightening a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for childless working-age adults who are not currently working at least half time, or other similar measures to impose what advocates for it call stronger work requirements. For a more detailed look at this issue, we recommend this blog post from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Will the House move the budget resolution before the August recess?

The House majority has announced that their draft budget resolution will be unveiled and voted on in the Budget Committee later this week, setting up the possibility of House floor action next week, just prior to the summer recess. Passing the budget resolution will set up the prospect of Congress doing a tax reform bill later this year under budget reconciliation procedures that would allow a bill to pass the Senate without any Democratic votes in favor.

In order to win a majority of votes in favor within her Committee, Representative Black has worked hard over many months to garner support from conservatives, a process which has resulted in the plan to cut at least $200 billion from mandatory social programs during the next year. Whether the package as it stands will receive enough votes to be reported out of committee remains to be seen, but generally the announcement of markup means the necessary votes have been secured.

Would the Senate agree to use budget reconciliation to cut social spending?

At this point in time, there appears to be far less enthusiasm in the Senate to following the House down this path. By most accounts, the Senate is focused on establishing fast track rules for tax reform without being bogged down with the spending cut proposition. If and when the House acts, however, there will be greater attention and more specificity on the Senate side that will bear watching.

What are the implications for the farm bill?

We began this series by noting that the projected 10-year cost of the farm bill is declining due almost entirely to the slowly shrinking size of the annual SNAP budget. Farm bills historically have passed through the strength of a coalition of forces that includes nutrition and anti-hunger, farm support, and conservation interests. The nutrition title of the bill, and SNAP in particular, is vitally important to that coalition when it comes time to win majority support on the floor of the Senate and particularly the House.

A fast track measure to cut SNAP, but absolve the rest of the farm bill mandatory programs from additional deficit reduction, could at best make passage of a new farm bill far more difficult than it would be otherwise, and at worst could blow up the process altogether.

These are weighty matters. We will keep readers apprised of the situation as the House Budget Committee prepares to take action later this week.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Farm Bill, Nutrition & Food Access

One response to “The Numbers Behind the Farm Bill: Budget Questions, SNAP, and the Farm Bill Coalition”

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