Our Long, National Farm-Bill Nightmare Is Over

After three years of congressional wrangling, the Senate has passed the bill.

Shoulder-high stalks are seen in a corn field July 5, 2006 in Prairie View, Illinois. Despite above average precipitation this spring, a devasting drought last summer that dragged into early 2006 continues to pose a threat to crops. Last year's corn crop was able to weather the drought thanks to saved-up soil moisture, a factor experts say is missing this year. Despite the concerns, this year's crop is well ahead of last year, according to experts.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
Add to Briefcase
Elahe Izadi
Feb. 4, 2014, 10:01 a.m.

It took Con­gress three years to pass a bill that deals with the most fun­da­ment­ally uni­ver­sal as­pect of Amer­ic­an life: eat­ing.

The Sen­ate gave the fi­nal stamp of ap­prov­al on the five-year farm bill Tues­day, vot­ing 68-32. The 959-page, nearly $1 tril­lion bill is a massive over­haul of food policy, and cov­ers all sorts of food-re­lated items, such as elim­in­at­ing dir­ect pay­ments to farm­ers in lieu of crop in­sur­ance and cut­ting $8 bil­lion in food-stamp fund­ing.

The fi­nal bill is a product of on-again, off-again con­fer­ence-com­mit­tee ne­go­ti­ations. “It’s done!” Sen­ate Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Debbie Stabenow ex­claimed after its fi­nal pas­sage. Fel­low Demo­crat­ic Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski had giv­en her a high-five on the Sen­ate floor dur­ing the vote.

But not every­one was pleased with the fi­nal product.

Nine Sen­ate Demo­crats, in­clud­ing Kirsten Gil­librand and Eliza­beth War­ren, joined 23 Re­pub­lic­ans in op­pos­ing the bill.

Sen. Robert Ca­sey of Pennsylvania and oth­er Demo­crats cited cuts to the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, aka food stamps, in their de­cision to op­pose the bill.

“There’s a lot in the bill that I could cer­tainly sup­port…. Debbie Stabenow de­serves a lot of cred­it for drop­ping it down from where the House was,” Ca­sey said Tues­day. The House ver­sion of the bill called for $39 bil­lion in SNAP cuts. “But I just couldn’t at this time sup­port a cut of that di­men­sion.”

In­de­pend­ent Sen. Bernie Sanders also wor­ried about the food-stamp cuts but said he voted for the bill after re­ceiv­ing as­sur­ances from Ver­mont Gov. Peter Shum­lin that the state will be able “to pro­tect lower-in­come Ver­monters from these cuts” through state fund­ing. At the same time, Sanders said, he could not ig­nore the needs of Ver­mont’s well-known dairy in­dustry.

Passing farm bills has his­tor­ic­ally been an easy and bi­par­tis­an ef­fort, but pro­gress on push­ing this le­gis­la­tion through had been im­peded over dis­agree­ments on food-stamp, dairy, and sug­ar pro­grams, as well as crop in­sur­ance and oth­er as­pects of ag­ri­cul­tur­al policy. The pre­vi­ous farm bill had been tem­por­ar­ily ex­ten­ded dur­ing last year’s fisc­al-cliff deal, but ex­pired at the end of Septem­ber.

Such swift ap­prov­al in Con­gress this time around be­lies how tough of a go it’s been to reach pas­sage. The farm bill un­ex­pec­tedly failed in the House last sum­mer when con­ser­vat­ives voted against it be­cause cuts to the food-stamp pro­gram didn’t go deep enough, while a bloc of lib­er­als voted no be­cause the cuts went too far. This time around, the mo­mentum was there for pas­sage, bolstered by the pro­spect of an­oth­er “dairy cliff” and a spike in milk prices, as well as by the sup­port of a broad range of in­terest groups. 

As with so many as­pects of le­gis­lat­ing, it’s not pretty to watch how the saus­age is made (or in this case, how the corn is grown). Things were so rough that House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man Frank Lu­cas had said that if he died dur­ing the fi­nal run-up to the bill, “I want a glass of milk carved on my tomb­stone — be­cause it’s what killed me.” 

Sarah Mimms contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
SAYS TRUMP JUST ATTACKING REPUBLICANS
Former Top Aide to McConnell Says GOPers Should Abandon Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST
“YOU CAN’T CHANGE HISTORY, BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT”
Trump Defends Confederate Statues in Tweetstorm
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE
CEOS HAVE BEEN FLEEING FOR THE EXITS
Trump to End Business Councils
2 days ago
THE LATEST
FROM STATEMENT
McConnell: “No Good Neo-Nazis”
2 days ago
THE LATEST
NO FORMAL LEGISLATIVE EFFORT
CBC Members Call for Removal of Confederate Statues from Capitol
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are reviving calls to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol following the violence at a white nationalist rally in Virginia." Rep. Cedric Richmond, the group's chair, told ABC News that "we will never solve America's race problem if we continue to honor traitors who fought against the United States." And Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson said, “Confederate memorabilia have no place in this country and especially not in the United States Capitol." But a CBC spokesperson said no formal legislative effort is afoot.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login