House Republican-led bait and switch farm bill unacceptable and shameful

July 16, 2013

By Nancy Thorner – 

In what was reported an accomplishment by the House on Thursday, July 11, the House passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (HR 2642) by a slim margin, 216 to 208, in what amounted to a scaled down farm bill sans food stamps better known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

This was second go-around of the farm bill, this time without the food stamp program. House Majority Leader Cantor of Virginia convinced Republican House members that this would be the best change to get the farm bill passed to erase the embarrassment of the defeat of the Thursday, June 20, House farm bill. Eric Cantor promised to “act with dispatch” to get a food stamp bill to the floor.

The vote was mostly bipartisan.  Every Democrat voted no, with all but six U.S. Republican House members voting yes.  All six Illinois Republican House members voted in favor of the scaled down farm bill san federal food stamps. They were:  Representatives Aaron Schock (18); Adam Kinzinger (16); Randy Hultgren (14); Rodney Davis (13); Peter Roskam (6); and John Shimkus (15)

An outraged House Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered this comment:

There is no resemblance to the bill that came out of committee.  The audacity is stunning.  When you take food out of people’s mouth, what are you thinking or are you thinking?

It is somewhat interesting that Ms. Pelosi is so concerned about feeding babies, yet she has no interest in defending them!

SNAP has more than doubled in cost in the last five years from $40 billion to $80 billion, now serving 1 in 7 Americans.  In April more than 47 million people were using the program, including those in 23 million households.  Average benefit:  $130 a month for an individual; $270 for a household.

When announcing that the food stamp program (SNAP) and the farm components of the “farm bill” would be considered separately, it was assumed that the House leadership and  House Republicans had received the message that the current farm policy was in need of serious reform  After all, the express purpose of splitting the bill was to give taxpayers an honest look at how Washington spends our money.

Republicans, however, by splitting the bill and moving forward on the farm subsidies component, have most likely made passing a bipartisan House-Senate farm bill even harder. This Republican action could result in Congress simply extending current law, or the Senate could offer its food stamp proposal with its $4 billion in cuts or perhaps no cuts at all, based on the different expiration dates for food stamps and farm subsidies.  Commodity subsidies for farmers expire on Sept. 30, while the food stamp program doesn’t expire and remains untouched as long as no food aid cuts becomes law.

As a matter of reference, the farm bill that failed on the House floor this past June had food stamp cuts amounting to $20.5 billion.  At the time sixty-two House Republicans felt that the $20.5 billion in food stamps cuts wasn’t deep enough.  Although the GOP conference might be able to live with $33 billion in food stamp cuts, such a cut would most likely make any House-Senate conference unworkable.

Just how did Republicans do with taxpayer’s money when they passed the farm component of the farm bill as a separate entity?

The House unfortunately resorted to late night farm bill shenanigans the evening before the vote took place.  The resulting flawed bill (HR 2642) that passed on July 11 simply brought the same troublesome farm programs up for a vote that were considered and soundly rejected by the House on June 20.  Everything that was bloated and egregious in the bill remained bloated and egregious, and then some.

  • It still goes out of its way to tax Christmas trees, in an effort to override the Obama Administration’s decision to not tax Christmas trees.
  • It still drives up food prices—which hurts low-income Americans most.
  • It still spends more than President Obama even wanted to spend on the costliest farm program, crop insurance.  The House bill adds $8.9 billion (CBO score), while Obama wanted to makes cut of $11.7 billion.
  • It still hands out taxpayer money to these surprising recipients:.

President Jimmy Carter     $272.288

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack  $82,874

Manhattan, N.Y. residents   9 million

The Rockefeller Family    $947,075

Families of Congressmen    $995,805

Unlike the previously rejected House farm bill, the following two new costly programs were added:

  • It sets up a “reference price program” (Guaranteed payment),  which was sold as covering only major losses for farmers which is even more generous than the Senate program.
  • It provides extreme protection for farmers through a “shallow loss program” which helps to guarantee most revenue for farmers.  Federal farm programs have traditionally existed to help farmers survive large, systemic losses.

HR 2641 likewise permits some of the costliest and most indefensible programs to live on indefinitely instead of expiring after five year to sunset as most farm programs do. The sugar program is one such program which will have no sunset date absent Congressional action, possibly locking in bad public policy forever.  Sugar prices have consistently been two to three times higher than world prices.  Ditto also with the dairy program that will restrict supplies in order to drive up dairy prices.

It is unconscionable that all six Illinois Republican congressmen supporting wasteful spending by voting for HR 2641, but they also violated their promise to the American people.

House Republicans were swept into office in January, 2011, with promises of bringing great transparency to the “people’s house”  One such promise included the GOP’s Pledge to America” and later enshrined in House rules, a three-day period to provide members of Congress adequate time to read and debate legislation.

HR 2641 did not meet this three day requirement.  Furthermore, claims that the bill was the same text from the failed House farm bill in June despite the sneaky changes that were made to the text, resulted in the denial of amendments.

Instead of the Bait and Switch approach used by House Republicans to pass the farm component of the farm bill, which will likely come back to haunt them, the House leadership should have gone back to the drawing board to fix the flaws to develop real reform.

Separating the farm bill into two parts made sense at first, but Republicans lost credibility as to whether they can reform the SNAP program at a later date when they increased spending above what President Obama wished to spend on farm programs by $8.9 billion.  80% of the nearly trillion dollar farm bill goes for food stamps.

Will the Republican House have the clout or the fortitude to be able to convert food stamps into a work activation program that is so crucial to promoting self-sufficiency and personal responsibility among food stamp recipients?

And what about the next Republican House attempt to prevent the IRS from enforcing Obamacare?   Will Republicans stand united and unwavering in their effort?

Monday, July 15, 2013 at 02:53 PM | Permalink

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