House finally passes farm bill

Published on: Jan 29, 2014

The obstacle of obtaining 218 votes in the House was achieved Wednesday morning when a bipartisan group of congressional members approved the farm bill conference report compromise with a vote of 251-166.

The House held an hour debate managed by House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Rep. Jim McGovern. Overall members from both sides of the aisle shared that despite the bill not being perfect, it was a good bill and called for support. Most of the dissenters were due to the proposed $8.7 billion in food stamp cuts.

The anti-hunger coalition was not solely against the bill shown by the vote in favor of the bill from Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio), who sat on the conference committee on behalf of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and also heads up the Black Caucus.

Top House Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) voted in favor of the bill, which likely helped bring additional votes for final approval.

Meat industry groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. and National Pork Producers Council had come out opposing the bill because it did not limit funding for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) and didn’t repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law.

Several members stressed disappointment that the final bill did not address these two controversial issues but also added they will seek resolutions to the issues through the appropriations process or separate legislation.

Rep. Jim Costa (D., Calif.) said he has drafted bipartisan legislation to fix COOL. Rep. Jim Conaway (R., Texas) said he’s “committed to continually working” on the GIPSA and COOL issues.

Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.) said more pointedly that it was the “Senate’s my way or the highway” approach to GIPSA and COOL that complicated the issues and restricts the farm bill from being a vehicle to restrict the GIPSA agency from going “well beyond Congressional intent,” he said on the House floor. He added he’s hopeful the House Appropriations Committee will do “everything in its power to fix some of those mistakes and fight to rein in GIPSA and fix COOL.”

The passage sends the bill to the Senate, where it is not expected to have any problems with passage. The chamber could take the bill up as soon as this week. Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) praised the passage. “The Senate has twice passed the farm bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. I have no doubt we’ll do it again,” she said in a statement.

Lucas said after passage that the legislation is something all can be proud of because it fulfills the expectations the American people have in Congress.  “They expect us to work together to find ways to reduce the cost of the federal government,” he said. “The Agricultural Act contributes major savings to deficit reduction, significant reforms to policy, and yet still provides a safety net not only for the production of American food and fiber, but also to ensure our fellow citizens have enough food to eat. I am hopeful this legislation will enjoy the same success when the Senate considers it, and I encourage the president to sign it quickly into law.”

The farm bill repeals the long-standing direct payment program and places a great emphasis on crop insurance risk management tools. Peterson expressed disappointment the commodity title doesn’t base safety net support on planted acres, but added “it wasn’t to be” in noting the need to find a compromise that better meets the needs of different regions and commodities.

It also changes dairy policy by offering a new voluntary, margin protection program without any government-mandated supply controls. Peterson, who was a champion of including the supply controls, said the dairy program in the end offers a much more sensible approach that has market signals with it to deal with overproduction. He added the only question he has is whether those signals are strong enough.