House Leaders’ Handling Of Farm Bill Endangers Whole System, Senator Charges

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"House Leaders’ Handling Of Farm Bill Endangers Whole System, Senator Charges"

Credit: AP

Reiterating a White House veto threat and pointing to the shrinking window for legislative action, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) warned House GOP leaders Monday that their split approach to the farm bill will not stand. On a conference call with reporters, the Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman questioned the House leadership’s lack of urgency on merging the House- and Senate-passed bills.

“When Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor (R-VA) announced they were not going to send us the bill, I was pretty stunned,” Stabenow said, referring to last week’s split farm bill that does not include nutritional funding. The August recess leaves Congress just 24 working days between now and the expiration of the current farm bill. “It appears the leadership wants to pass a Republican-only nutrition [bill] first,” Stabenow said, but there isn’t time for that. “We have got to get started on putting together the final agreement.”

Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture committee, stressed that Republicans know their split farm bill cannot become law. “We could not pass that through the Senate, nor would the president sign that kind of bill,” she said, calling the House’s approach “a major mistake.” Stabenow blamed that mistake on Cantor and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), not her House Agriculture counterpart Frank Lucas (R-OK).

“This strategy is coming from the leadership of the House,” Stabenow said, “and I have always felt that if it were [up to] the leaders in agriculture in the House and Senate that we could get this done. We need to have the leadership of the House supporting Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member [Collin] Petersen (D-MN).” Stabenow later hinted that if Boehner and Cantor can’t move their caucus quickly enough, they might need to simply get out of the way. “We will look at a range of alternatives, the best being to sit down in a room [and] produce a bipartisan bill,” she said, but “if that can’t happen then we’ll look at other alternatives.”

A highly partisan House version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, might include the $135 billion cut contained in the House budget passed earlier this year. But since even a milder version of the cuts would not become law – the White House pledged to veto the original, failed House bill over its $20.5 billion cuts – the practical impact of the House leadership’s strategy is not to reform a program they believe wasteful, but to endanger the entirety of agricultural and anti-hunger policy in America. If the delay results in the farm bill expiring, the food stamps program would be subject to annual attack in the appropriations process, Stabenow said, and agricultural policy would revert to pre-World War II law. That would wreak havoc on farmers and consumers alike, as the Congressional Research Service has detailed.

Running out the clock would also undermine the GOP’s own reform goals. “The other thing I find ironic is for the folks who want reform, without a nutrition title the reforms we’ve put in place for fraud and abuse wouldn’t exist,” she said. The Chairwoman further noted that food charities Republicans tout as the proper means of addressing hunger rely on the piece of the farm bill excised by the House for their funding, adding that “If someone supports food banks they should support our bill, which increases money to food banks.”

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