The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 11, 2013

House passes farm bill without food stamps


Farm-wise, the new House bill largely hewed to what lawmakers considered earlier this year. It would, in time, eliminate the direct payment subsidy for commodities like wheat, cotton and rice, while boosting subsidized crop insurance. It would retain specialty crop research and export promotion programs aiding fruit and vegetable growers. It also extends a helping hand to industrial hemp research and a proposed Christmas tree promotion program, among others.

Much of what happened Thursday, though, broke new ground.

Republican leaders limited debate to one hour and prohibited amendments. The last time the House debated the farm bill, on June, 29 different amendments got recorded votes and dozens more were debated.

Democrats wanted nothing to do with the latest version largely because Republicans stripped out, for now, the supplemental nutrition programs that have been a fundamental part of federal farm bills since at least 1973. Republicans did so to make the bill palatable to enough of their caucus for passage. But GOP leaders said the change is temporary.

“I’m a practical guy, and I came to the realization that I had to think outside of the box,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Texas Republican Pete Sessions, chair of the House Rules Committee, added that “we have to find a way to pass a bill.”

So far, the Republican-controlled House has been stymied.

Last Congress, the Senate passed its latest farm bill, but the fractious House never acted. This Congress, the Senate approved its bill in June 66-27. But in an embarrassment to GOP leaders, the House rejected its own version 195-234, with 62 Republicans joining 172 Democrats in opposition.

Several reasons accounted for the earlier defeat. Some staunch House conservatives object to crop subsidies as a matter of both cost and free-market policy. Many Democrats oppose changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly known as the food stamp program, that under the original House bill would be cut by a total of $20 billion over 10 years.

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