The House Agriculture Committee began to work through over 100 amendments to the leaders' farm bill proposal during a markup July 11, powering through all 12 titles of the farm bill into the early hours of July 12. The committee's 35-11 approval sets up House floor action and may allow for conference committee even if the House does not bring it to the floor.
The proposed Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act Act will contribute more than $35 billion to deficit reduction with $14 billion coming from the farm safety net, $6 billion coming from conservation programs, and $16 billion from nutrition reforms.
One of the most striking differences between the Senate and House version is the amount of nutrition cuts or savings, from the $4.5 billion in the Senate compared to the House's $16.5 billion. Heated discussion focused on the impact of proposed changes which the Congressional Budget Office said could impact as many as 2.8 million recipients.
Attempts to change the nutrition title to the Senate's approved $4.5 billion was voted down, as well as an attempt to increase nutrition savings beyond the proposed $16 billion.
Rep. Reid Ribble, R., Wisc., said attempts to paint the cuts as draconian are wrong since it amounts to a reduction of $1.65 billion per year. In addition, since the height of recession when unemployment was at 10%, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has increased $22 billion. "This alleged cut is really a decrease in the rate of growth" in the program, Ribble said.
Both leaders warned that they felt the $16 billion struck the right balance on what would be needed to get a farm bill out of committee as well as position it for approval on the House floor.
"In a perfect world, this farm bill would look different," chairman Frank Lucas, (R., Okla.) conceded during debate of the food stamp program. "I sincerely believe the intention is not to make anyone who qualifies suffer, but by the same token we're trying to achieve savings here. And these compelling reforms touch all areas…I believe this is the direction we must go to restore confidence in these programs."
Dairy and sugar changes fail
A former committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R., Va., proposed two of the most controversial amendments in the commodity title regarding dairy and sugar policy, two issues that historically experience division. Both programs were able to preserve the original chairman's mark.
Goodlatte's attempt to strip the supply management component of the dairy market stabilization program failed by a margin of 29-17. The National Milk Producers Federation welcomed the support to keep the program as originally designed by ranking member Collin Peterson, D., Minn., whereas dairy processors were disappointed with the vote's outcome.
In defending the program Peterson said he's been working on dairy reforms for 2.5 years and despite Goodlatte and Rep. David Scott, R., Ga., doing "what they think is right, it is a recipe for disaster," Peterson said, adding history has shown that producers cannot afford another year like 2009 where prices plummeted and supply soared.