July 11, 2013 — The House passed a version of the Farm Bill (HR 2642) on Thursday, July 11, after splitting out nutrition/feeding programs. The 216-208 vote was strictly along partisan lines, after a rancorous debate on the House floor between Republicans and Democrats, according to Bob Gray, editor of the Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives newsletter.
The bill contains 11 of the 12 titles of the original Farm Bill voted down by the House in late June. House leadership removed the nutrition title, which includes the food stamp program (SNAP) and other programs.
The House version includes the Goodlatte-Scott dairy policy proposal, and not the Dairy Security Act approved by the Senate. Commodity, conservation, research, rural development and other titles from the previously considered Farm Bill remain.
The bill also repeals “permanent farm bill law” which includes the 1949 and 1938 laws.
Divided in the House, passage of this version of the Farm Bill was also divided in dairy.
“The farm bill passed today by the House of Representatives is seriously flawed, in that it contains the Goodlatte-Scott dairy amendment, as well as a repeal of permanent agricultural law,” said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO, of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). “Neither of these measures serves the best long-term interests of dairy farmers. The Senate, by contrast, overwhelmingly passed the complete Dairy Security Act, which the National Milk Producers Federation and nearly all dairy farmers enthusiastically supported.
“Nevertheless, today’s action means that there is still hope that a new farm bill can be passed in 2013,” Kozak continued. “Without any progress toward a Senate-House conference committee, we were looking at yet another one-year extension of current programs, which is unacceptable. Today’s vote means that agricultural leaders now can work on improving the House bill and developing better dairy policy than what exists now, and what is contained in this House bill.
“The bill today is not the end of the process, but rather a means to a better end that we will continue working with lawmakers to achieve,” Kozak added. “NMPF appreciates all the efforts put forth by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) to try to move a 5-year farm bill through the House of Representatives by bipartisan means last month. We are committed to working with these two champions for agriculture through the conference process in the coming weeks. We urge the conference committee to include the Dairy Security Act.”
As expected, Jerry Slominski, International Dairy Foods Association senior vice president of legislative and economic affairs, had a different take on the dairy title.
“Today’s passage of the Farm Bill by the House of Representatives brings us one step closer to historic dairy policy reform and proves that we can help dairy farmers without raising the prices of dairy products for consumers and for government programs,” Slominski said. “Although today’s vote was close due to differences over the SNAP program, the Farm Bill now passed by the House includes the Goodlatte-Scott amendment, which was passed by a margin of more than 2-1, 291-135, and was supported by nearly all Republicans and almost half of the Democrats.
“The House-passed version of the Farm Bill will allow our industry to continue to grow and create thousands more jobs,” Slominski said. “The Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, however, continues to include the divisive milk supply management policy that is opposed by national consumer groups, supermarket chains, restaurants, taxpayers, the Teamsters union and many dairy producers, including the second-largest dairy cooperative.
“We support the aid to dairy farmers in the House bill, but we oppose the Senate dairy package,” Slominski added. “We will continue to educate the Senate and House conferees, showing that we can help dairy farmers through difficult economic times without making it more difficult for millions of families to afford healthy and nutritious dairy products.”
DFA: Progress is bittersweet
“While today’s progress toward a Farm Bill is welcome, it is unfortunate that this movement comes with a bill that does not contain the Dairy Security Act (DSA),” said John Wilson, senior vice president of dairy farmers of America (DFA). “H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, falls short on many fronts.
“It is truly disappointing that this omission was the only way to move this bill forward through a divided House of Representatives,” Wilson continued. “Given that the Farm Bill affects not only the rural economy, but the nation’s economy as a whole, it is unfortunate that bi-partisan support has been so difficult to achieve.
“However, we remain hopeful that conference negotiations with the Senate bill, which does contain the DSA, will yield a dairy program we can embrace,” Wilson added. “The development of this Farm Bill and specifically reforms in dairy programs has required extraordinary patience, negotiation and perseverance by Congressional Agricultural Committee leaders, dairy farmers and others in agriculture. We urge party leadership in both the House and Senate to quickly name conferees and bring this bill to finalization.”
Since nutrition programs were split out of the bill, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, was uncertain what happens next.
“The American Farm Bureau Federation looks forward to moving ahead with fundamental farm policy legislation, following House passage today of H.R. 2642,” he said. “While we don’t yet know what the next steps will be, we will be working with both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress to ensure passage of a new five-year farm bill.
“While we were hopeful the farm bill would not be split, nor permanent law repealed, we will now focus our efforts on working with lawmakers to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk for his signature by September,” Stallman concluded.
“Today was an important step toward enacting a five-year farm bill this year that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty, provides regulatory relief to small businesses across the country, significantly reduces spending, and makes common-sense, market-oriented reforms to agricultural policy,” said House Ag Committee chair Lucas. “I look forward to continuing conversations with my House colleagues and starting conversations with my Senate colleagues on a path forward that ultimately gets a farm bill to the President’s desk in the coming months.”
However, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who joined his fellow Democrats in opposition to the bill, said separation of nutrition and food assistance programs from the Farm Bill resulted in “legislation even more flawed than the Farm Bill that was rejected by the House last month, and was also presented under a closed rule which effectively shut down debate and denied any opportunity to amend the bill.”
“This bill, like the one rejected last month, failed to include the type of reform needed to make our agriculture policies more fiscally responsible and responsive to the needs of farmers,” said Kind. “I attempted to include those reforms in this new bill, but was shut out from the process by a House majority more interested in appeasing big agribusiness than in protecting taxpayers and family farmers.”
Kind said this is the first time in over four decades that a Farm Bill has come to the floor under a completely closed rule, and the first time in history that such a bill comes to the floor with no legislative hearing or markup. He said the 600-page legislation was rushed to the floor without enough time for members to read and review it.
“The last thing our farmers need to contend with is a dysfunctional Congress playing political games with their livelihood,” concluded Kind. “Our farmers need a comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill, and families in every community across this country need access to basic nutrition. This bill failed on both counts.”
This article was written and edited by Dave Natzke, DairyBusiness Communications.