Last Friday (May 18), the farm bill failed to pass the U.S. House, falling 213 to 198, undone by a group of Republican congressmen demanding a vote on a bill to restrict legal immigration. It could have failed for any number of other reasons, including the most contentious, an enhanced work or training requirement for an “able-bodied” individual to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds —food stamps — which set Democrats solidly in opposition.
Some conservative Republicans also objected to what many perceived as excessive spending on insurance subsidies, sugar support and other programs they deemed wasteful.
Various ag associations quickly weighed in—with both praise and vilification. Even some conservative-leaning groups, such as Taxpayers for Common Sense, applauded the failure. Others, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and USA Rice, expressed disappointment in the defeat.
The National Young Farmers Coalition expressed regret that a farm bill is not closer to passage, but criticized the process by which the bill was developed. “Today’s vote should prove once and for all that Congress cannot pass a bill this important by dividing Republicans and Democrats; dividing what’s right for farmers and what’s right for families; pitting the largest farms against the smallest,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and executive director of NYFC.
Failure to follow what has for decades been a bi-partisan approach to crafting farm policy is a general criticism of how the bill was developed.
“This bill was a non-starter from its beginnings,” said Monica Mills, executive director of Food Policy Action. “It was written behind closed doors with no bipartisan consultation or input. That is not the way to write a bill that affects every American and the food we eat at every meal every single day.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, expressed disappointment. “We experienced a setback today after a streak of victories …,” he said. “We may be down, but we are not out. We will deliver a strong, new farm bill on time as the President of the United States has called on us to do. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers and rural America deserve nothing less.”
Rep. Collin Peterson, D- Minn., Ag Committee ranking member, says it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to work together, saying, “… this is a good opportunity for us to return to the table and fix this bill before we move forward. Let’s come together and figure out a bill that works for everyone. We don’t have to let this process be held hostage by the demands of the extremes of our parties. We can and should take the time to get the farm bill right.”
Even had this bill passed, it faced an uncertain future in the Senate where both the Ag Committee chairman and ranking member have expressed concerns about changes to SNAP. It’s time to compromise.