By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican
In mid-June, U.S. senators finally passed their version of a farm bill on a vote of 66-27. The 1,150 page version was intended to replace a farm bill that expired last year.
Then, last Thursday, June 20, the House took a vote on their version of the farm bill—it failed, with just 195 voting for and 234 voting against the bill.
What’s ironic is that despite a Republican-controlled House, it was the Democrats who spelled doom for the farm bill. A total of 172 Democrats voted against it, with only 24 voting for. On the Republican side, 171 voted for passage while 62 opposed it.
The cost for the Senate bill was pegged at $955 billion over the next 10 years, which was a reduction of nearly $18 billion in spending over the previous bill.
The House bill was tagged at a cost of $940 billion, with the biggest reduction coming from cutting food stamps by more than $20 billion compared to present levels.
So the way it shook out was that 172 Democrats thought the cuts to food stamp and nutrition programs were far too much. Another 62 Republicans voted against the bill because they thought the cuts were enough.
So, back to stalemate in the House. We shouldn’t be surprised with a body that has far more dysfunction than any dysfunctional person or family I’ve ever been witness to.
At least the Senate showed the leadership to get a bill passed that could at least advance to the conference committee that could have been reconciled with a House version, had it passed.
Both bills contained significant reductions in direct payments to farmers for commodity price supports—to the tune of about $17 billion over 10 years.
Crop insurance subsidies proved to be a major sticking point in the House. Currently, the government pays about $7 billion each year to help cover crop insurance premiums.
Under both bills, the government would spend an additional $5 billion under the Senate bill and $8.9 billion annually to cover the deductibles farmers have to pay before insurance takes over. This is a carrot to offset the loss of direct payments. The Senate also limited subsidies for farmers earning more than $750,000 per year.
These subsidies came under fire from the Environmental Working Group that monitors farm subsidies payments to operators.
While some don’t believe that farmers need subsidies or government back-up in case of crop disasters or failure, let’s not forget that U.S. farmers not only feed the U.S. but the world.
I doubt there’s any segment of business that doesn’t already get some kind government support, tax breaks or benefits, one way or another.
Our farmers need a farm bill to protect them from weather conditions they have absolutely no control over. Of course, they don’t have any control over commodity prices either.
Perhaps the best answer to crafting a workable farm bill is to take the food stamps and nutrition programs out of the farm bill. It’s a reasonable question to ask why the farm bill is used to budget for food stamps.
The project 10-year costs for these programs ranges from $743 billion to $760 billion. Take that away from the cost of the farm bill and protecting our farmers, funding conservation and trade activities doesn’t look so expensive after all.
Nonetheless, we’re still left with a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything the helps move our country forward. In this case, dysfunction leads to only more dysfunction that leaves us in the lurch.