Following in the heels of the Senate Ag committee, the House Ag Committee took their Farm Bill plan on Wednesday. Unlike the Senate debate, the House committee spent very little time on the commodity title. Most of the more controversial issues were simply deferred to full House floor debate. Two issues, however, took up most of the committee time were dairy policy and cuts in nutrition funding. The committee worked late into the evening taking a final vote near Midnight. HR 1947 was passed out of committee on a 36 to 10 vote.
An attempt to strip the dairy program language contained in the House bill failed. Chairman Frank Lucas admitted the dairy industry is not united behind the program, but told the committee it may be the only way to get a Farm Bill passed, “A Farm Bill is like a jigsaw puzzle, there are lots of pieces that have to fit together. I need to fit these together to keep this moving forward.” The dairy program included in the bill is opposed by House Speaker John Boehner, who referred to the complex dairy supply management program in the bill as “Soviet-style.” The program is crucial, however, to committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN); and his block of rural Democrats will be needed to pass any Farm Bill. The amendment to gut the dairy program sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. David Scott (D-GA) was defeated on a 20-26 vote.
Like the Senate mark up, a proposed $20.5 billion cut in food nutrition programs sparked hours of discussion. Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern proposed restoring the cuts, “This is not a get rich quick scheme, this is a program that has one of the lowest error rates of any government program. I have seen people diminish the struggle that people on SNAP go through and that is not right. This is a program that feeds people.” But Iowa Republican Steve King made it clear the GOP was not going to support putting more money into a program they feel already costs too much, “It seems to me that the goal of this administration is to expand the rolls of people who are on SNAP benefits, the purpose of which is to expand the dependency class.” Ranking member Collin Peterson urged his fellow Democrats to move on in order to get a Farm Bill to the floor, “We need to get past the ideology on both the right and the left and be realistic.” In the end, the $20.5 billion cut remained in the Bill, but will likely be a major focal point during floor debate. The level of cuts to SNAP will also be a problem in reconciling the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill, since the Senate version calls for only a fifth of the cuts called for in the House. Ultimately, the future of a new Farm Bill may well rest on the ability of Republicans and Democrats to compromise on the nutrition section.
Chairman Lucas indicated this time around the House Farm Bill will make it to the floor for full House debate, most likely next month.