Farm Bill: A Breakdown of the Breakdown

You’ve probably heard by now that the U.S. House failed to pass a Farm Bill last week. It came as somewhat of a shocker, failing 195 to 234, which is a pretty big margin. It’s the first time since 1973 that the House has voted down a Farm Bill.

In what can only be interpreted as a slap to the face of U.S. House leadership, this failure typifies how dysfunctional this body of Congress has become, with the majority unable to pass legislation it claims is one of its priorities.

The failed legislation contained excessive cuts to conservation programs and nutrition resources, and lacked the establishment of any limits on federally subsidized crop insurance (the latter program is already far and away the most costly farm-oriented program and is growing in size by the year and in other Farm Bill proposals). The negative vote on this bill is a clear signal that House leadership needs to do a hard examination of what it takes to advance a bill that is based on good public policy.

Having no five-year Farm Bill in place leaves our nation’s farmers with uncertainty, while shutting down public policy opportunities to invest in new farmers, engender rural development, and secure conservation on the land.

The Land Stewardship Project implores the U.S. House to recalibrate and refocus the disproportionately deep cuts in this failed bill. It must find a more reasonable approach that attracts the kind of bipartisan support needed for final passage. This must be done in earnest so a final Farm Bill can be passed and signed by the President by the end of this fiscal year—Sept. 30, 2013.

There is a barn-full of political commentary on what tanked the bill. But perhaps what is most useful at this time is that the debate the House undertook on the 103 amendments offered key insights into the public policy priorities of individual members of Congress. From crop insurance reform to local food incentives, we now have a better idea of where lawmakers stand on creating agriculture policy that's good for our land, people and communities.

We've included with this blog a chart of how the Minnesota delegation and Rep. Ron Kind (western Wisconsin) and Rep. Bruce Braley (northern Iowa) voted on six key amendments. Those with the best voting record included Minnesota Representatives Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, as well as Wisconsin's Kind ( five for five). Most frustrating were Minnesota Representatives Michele Bachmann (0-5), Collin Peterson, Tim Walz and John Kline ( 1-5).

What's next?

Things are up in the air right now, but we should have a better assessment of where Congress is going next on this issue within a week or so—stay tuned. If you have questions or input, contact me at adamw@landstewardshipproject.org or 612-722-6377.

Below is a summary of LSP's perspective on selected House Farm Bill amendments.

Land Stewardship Project Perspective
on Selected House Farm Bill Amendments:

Support #28: Requires conservation compliance on sensitive land as a condition of eligibility for crop insurance subsidy assistance. Authored by Thompson (CA) and Fortenberry (NE).

• Support #73: Allows states to target the Conservation Reserve Program to high priority and environmentally sensitive land. Authored by Blumenauer (OR), Capps (CA) and Moran (VA).

• Support #74: Reforms the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to better target resources and sets stronger payment limits. Authored by Blumenauer (OR), Huffman (CA) and Moran (VA).

• Oppose #92: Strikes the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program. Authored by McClintock (CA).

• Support #93: Reduces farm program payment limits in Title I and closes loopholes to ensure actual farmers are the recipients of support. Authored by Fortenberry (NE).

• Support #149: Crop insurance reforms that establish adjusted gross income limits and premium subsidy limits, as well as reduce insurance providers’ overhead and administration reimbursements; also increase program-spending transparency. Authored by Kind (WI), Petri (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Conyers (MI), Cooper (TN), DeFazio (OR), Connolly (VA), DeLauro (CT), McGovern (MA), Radel (FL), Sensenbrenner (WI) and Waxman (CA).