Morning Action: Food Stamp and Farm Bill Passes Senate, Will Face Stronger Challenge in House

FARM BILL. The trillion dollar food stamp and farm bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 66-27; however, the bill will face greater opposition in the House (sub. req’d):

The Senate on Monday passed a farm bill that would authorize agriculture and nutrition programs through fiscal 2018 and overhaul payments to farmers, saving $18 billion compared to current law.

Senators backed the measure 66-27 after spending more than two weeks debating a handful of the more than 200 amendments offered on the legislation.

The bill (S 954), which the CBO estimates would cost $15 billion more than competing legislation advanced by the House Agriculture Committee, would end direct and countercyclical payments to farmers, which account for most of the current commodity spending. In their place, the bill would establish an “adverse market payments” program to provide support when prices fall below a historic reference. That program was not included in the farm measure the Senate passed last year. The bill would set target prices below corresponding House levels, meaning the program would be triggered less often under the Senate language.

But challenges remain — most notably a dispute with the House over funding for the nation’s largest food aid program. The Senate measure would trim the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $4 billion by requiring that recipients of a heating assistance program receive a minimum payment of $10 to be eligible for SNAP. Meanwhile, the House measure (HR 1947) would cut the program by $20.5 billion by limiting the types of low-income benefits that would automatically qualify recipients for the nutrition program.

In addition, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has expressed strong opposition to provisions in the House and Senate measures that would establish a market stabilization program to prevent an oversupply of milk by reducing payments to producers when milk margins fall below $6 for two months or $4 for one month.

Opponents say the language could increase milk prices and create an incentive for farmers to constrain or shrink their herds.

The House legislation is expected on the floor this month and could be considered as early as June 17. The current farm policy law (PL 112-24) expires Sept. 30.

This is a critical conservative legislative battle.  With our nation nearing $17 trillion in debt, this bill is more out-of-control spending taxpayers cannot afford, and it must be stopped in the House.

The Heritage Foundation highlighted the words of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in opposition to the so-called farm bill, which he said “gives far less attention to the needs of farmers than it does to politicians and special interests.”

IMMIGRATION.   The Gang of Eight amnesty bill is expected to easily clear its first procedural hurdle but will have to overcome other hurdles as the Senate considers various amendments to the bill (sub. req’d):

While the Senate immigration overhaul is expected to easily clear its first procedural hurdle Tuesday, its proponents continue to work behind the scenes to round up support for more difficult votes that lie ahead on amendments and final passage.

Senators are scheduled to vote first Tuesday on limiting debate on the motion to proceed to the immigration bill. The legislation is expected to pass that test by a wide margin, but its future prospects are by no means assured once the Senate begins discussing amendments.

Republicans say the bill’s border security provisions will need to be strengthened before they will consider voting for it. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another one of the sponsors, has been discussing with his colleagues border security amendments designed to make the legislation more palatable.

We have noted, as have Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Lee (R-UT), the Senate blocked numerous amendments while the bill was debated in committee that would have improved it.  The Senators who willfully blocked good and bad amendments alike simply did not want to break the political alliances driving the bill forward.

OBAMACARE.  Heritage explains that Obamacare entices governors to take federal money for the Medicaid expansion.  Medicaid is a failed and overburdened program already.  Rather than accept these funds, the states should opt for conservative alternatives that are in the best interest of their taxpayers and uninsured residents:

Medicaid—which is supposed to be the federal-state partnership that serves low-income children, disabled Americans, pregnant women, and some seniors.

Medicaid, which is not quality health care and is losing doctors every year.

Medicaid, which is already so overloaded that the number of people on the program exceeds the population of France, Britain, or Italy.

Heritage research shows that 40 of 50 states would see increases in costs due the Medicaid expansion. It may look enticing at first because of the promise of federal money—but there is no guarantee that money will materialize down the line, Heritage experts have explained.

IRS. Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky and Kyle McCollum explain that it is “outrageous” for Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) to have pointed a finger at the victims of the IRS scandal.  By attacking the victims, he demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the applicable law regarding IRS tax exempt status:

Leaders of six targeted groups testified before the House Ways and Means Committee to shine light on their interactions with the IRS. In response to testimony that revealed egregious government overreaches—demands for confidential donor information, forced disclosure of group volunteers or donors who might ever run for political office, content of speeches, intentional leaking of confidential donor information to outside groups with opposing agendas—McDermott decided it was appropriate to indict the witnesses instead:

None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We are talking about whether or not the American taxpayers would subsidize your work. We are talking about a tax break.… Each of your groups is highly political.… From opposing the President’s health care reform, to abortion restrictions, to gay marriage, you’re all entrenched in some of the most controversial political issues in this country—and with your applications you are asking the American public to pay for that work.

For someone who, as a Member of Congress, is responsible for the tax legislation under which citizens and nonprofit organization operate, McDermott displays a remarkable misunderstanding of the applicable law. And he did not seem to be listening to the testimony that detailed organizations being intimidated by the IRS scrutiny, losing possible donations, or giving up trying to get qualified entirely.

The IRS has the authority to grant an exemption from paying taxes under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code to social welfare organizations that are “primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the community.” Because such activity can inherently cross into the realm of politics, the statute grants these organizations considerably more discretion to engage in political activity than McDermott would have us believe, just as long as it is not their “primary” activity. The Code even permits 501(c)(4) organizations to engage in lobbying efforts to support legislation that is relevant to their interests.

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