Farm-Only Farm Bill Squeaks Through House
In a party-line vote - the U.S. House approved a new version of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act Thursday. The final tally was 216 to 208 in favor of the bill - with fewer than 218 votes needed for passage as a result of absences. Twelve Republicans joined 196 Democrats in voting against the bill. The measure is a farm program-only bill that does not include a nutrition title. The bill also repeals the 1938 and 1949 permanent farm laws and makes Title I of the 2013 bill permanent law. House Ag Chair Frank Lucas appealed for votes - asking for passage of the farm bill so he could begin to work on nutrition. He pledged to lead the committee to work on the nutrition title - while noting he could make no guarantees about what the final product would look like. After the vote - Lucas said passage of the FARRM Act was an important step toward enacting a five-year farm bill this year that gives farmers and ranchers certainty, provides regulatory relief to small businesses across the country, significantly reduces spending and makes commonsense, market-oriented reforms to agricultural policy. Lucas said he looks forward to continuing conversations with his House colleagues and starting conversations with his Senate colleagues on a path forward that ultimately gets a farm bill to the President's desk in the coming months.
Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson spoke against the bill ahead of the vote - calling the strategy of splitting the farm bill a mistake that jeopardizes its chances of every becoming law. In addition - he said repealing permanent law would all but ensure Congress never writes a farm bill again. Peterson cited the opposition to splitting the farm bill expressed in a letter sent to House leaders last week by a broad coalition of 532 groups as proof he wasn't alone in his belief. According to Peterson - when such a large group of organizations - most with different if not conflicting priorities can come together and agree on something - Congress should listen. Peterson also expressed concern that there's been no assurance from Republican Leadership that passing the bill would allow the House to begin to conference with the Senate in a timely manner.
Following the vote - Peterson said the Majority's decision to move a modified farm bill without nutrition provisions and repealing permanent farm law would be laughable if it weren't true. He says it was not the only option - as he repeatedly expressed a willingness to work with the Majority on a path forward after the House failed to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan, five-year farm bill. Peterson believes they could have found a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the farm bill debate, advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. He says that's all in question now.
Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow says the House-passed bill is not a real farm bill. In fact - she calls it an insult to rural America. She says she will go to conference with the bipartisan, comprehensive farm bill approved by the Senate that not only reforms programs, supports families in need and creates agriculture jobs - but also saves billions more than the flawed House bill.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand led 17 Senators in writing Majority Leader Harry Reid to urge him to keep the farm bill whole. The letter states the legislative maneuver in the House disrupts a decades-long balance between urban and rural interests. The Senators go on to say that splitting the farm bill - while appearing to be politically expedient in the short-term - will undermine future efforts to pass robust agricultural policy that also protects the food safety net for millions of Americans. The letter urges Reid to ensure the will of the Senate for a comprehensive farm bill is sustained.
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