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 »
SOUND LEVEL AFFECTED
Debate Commission Admits Issues with Trump’s Mic
19 minutes ago
THE LATEST

The Commission on Presidential Debates put out a statement today that gives credence to Donald Trump's claims that he had a bad microphone on Monday night. "Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall," read the statement in its entirety.

Source:
TRUMP VS. CHEFS
Trump Deposition Video to Be Released
35 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"A video of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his provocative rhetoric about Mexicans and other Latinos is set to go public" as soon as today. "Trump gave the testimony in June at a law office in Washington in connection with one of two lawsuits he filed last year after prominent chefs reacted to the controversy over his remarks by pulling out of plans to open restaurants at his new D.C. hotel. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman said in an order issued Thursday evening that fears the testimony might show up in campaign commercials were no basis to keep the public from seeing the video."

Source:
A CANDIDATE TO BE ‘PROUD’ OF
Chicago Tribune Endorses Gary Johnson
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."

FUNERAL FOR ISRAELI LEADER
Obama Compares Peres to ‘Giants of the 20th Century’
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Speaking at the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, President Obama "compared Peres to 'other giants of the 20th century' such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth who 'find no need to posture or traffic in what's popular in the moment.'" Among the 6,000 mourners at the service was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama called Abbas's presence a sign of the "unfinished business of peace" in the region.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many New Voters Does the Clinton Campaign Aim to Register?
4 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Three million—a number that lays "bare the significant gap between Donald Trump’s bare-bones operation and the field program that Clinton and her hundreds of aides have been building for some 17 months."

Source:
×