The House's Thursday vote to approve a partial Farm Bill drew both praise and criticism from farm groups and legislators who closely watched dairy, subsidy and crop insurance reforms in the quickly drafted legislation.
The bill, H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, was called a "farm-only" farm bill by some, as it removed the nutrition title and instead focused mainly on crop insurance, farm subsidies, livestock disaster assistance and EPA protections.
The bill also dissolved 1938 and 1949 price support legislation and replaced it with 2013 provisions. The Goodlatte-Scott amendment to the Dairy Security Act, which eliminated the Dairy Market Stabilization Program, was also included.
Legislators proposed the split largely to avoid the staunch opposition to the $40 billion in cuts in the nutrition title.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., a champion of splitting the bill, said it would allow the House to focus on each matter – foods and farms – separately, effectively ending the partnership of rural and urban interests that the original farm bill created.
"For the first time since the 1970s, taxpayers will have an honest look at how Washington spends their money on agriculture and food stamp policy," Stutzman said.
While some groups saw the move as a benefit to achieve passage, others reluctantly signed on, with a "better than nothing" attitude.
“While we were hopeful the farm bill would not be split, nor permanent law repealed, we will now focus our efforts on working with lawmakers to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk for his signature by September," pledged American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman.
Some groups, like AFBF, feared the repeal of permanent '30s and '40s laws could effectively end any motivation to renew farm legislation. That was a fear expressed also by House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who voted against the bill.
"If you want to make sure congress never considers another farm bill … then vote for this bill," Peterson warned on the House floor. He also reiterated his belief that reviewing the previously proposed legislation that failed on the floor in June would have been the best option.
"I firmly believed that if we could find a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the House farm bill debate we would be able to advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. Now all that is in question," Peterson said.
But Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas stood by the decision of the leadership to move forward with a farm-only bill, viewing it as an opportunity to get to conference. The American Soybean Association took a similar stance.
"ASA is relieved that we will finally see a conference on the farm bill," said Danny Murphy, ASA president. "However today's approval by the House on a partial bill will mean nothing if we can't get a bill back from conference that both chambers will pass. In that sense, there is still much work to be done."
Like Peterson, however, the group also opposed repeal of permanent agricultural policies.
"If only Title 1 of a new farm bill is made permanent, other titles – including conservation, research, energy and trade – would risk not being reauthorized when the bill expires after five years, since Title 1 would remain in place," Murphy explained. "Also, we are very concerned that Title 1 of a new bill could include provisions that would distort plantings and production in years of low prices, and that it would be extremely difficult to change these provisions if the legislation were made permanent."
Following Thursday's passage, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., noted that leaders would work towards a conference on the bill soon, though no timeline was revealed.