Giant Farm Bill Mistakes

House Republicans reportedly took their first steps late Thursday toward a formal Farm Bill conference with the Senate.  The general sentiment in the House for those eager to pass a flawed farm bill seems to be, “Let’s just get something done.” As a result, the Rules Committee cleared the way for a floor vote Friday that would marry up the separate titles approved in July and then last week.

The feeling of urgency was encapsulated well by a remark from Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) 19%:

I get it. You don’t like the Senate bill. I get it. Senate doesn’t like this bill. But you know what? Let’s get together and get something we both equally dislike but at least it serves the people and moves something forward.

This statement is a giant red flag and absolutely the wrong course of action.  Going to conference on two bad pieces of legislation means that the resulting bill is likely going to be terrible. And the Farm Bill will not “serve the people” if it includes no real reforms. 

So the House may have taken a step forward closer to conference, but it is also a giant leap backward in terms of reform.

And it gets worse – some lawmakers in the House want to restore the unholy alliance between farm programs and food stamps:

The goal is to restore a more comprehensive package including commodity, conservation, crop insurance and nutrition titles as one. This will then be sent to the Senate as a single amendment and sets the stage for the leadership to appoint conferees.

The Heritage Foundation explains that separation of the farm bill and food stamps is the only way to ensure real, necessary reform – reform that brings us out of the 1930s into the 21st century – happens:

An extension would give Members of Congress the time to identify the best ways to keep the food stamp program and farm programs separated from each other. Practically, the phrase “farm bill” is a misnomer: Close to 80 percent of the costs consists of food stamps. Congress has for decades combined these disparate programs into one bill, enabling it to avoid addressing the merits of the programs.

Separation is a prerequisite for reform. The House, unlike the Senate, took the critical step of separating the farm programs from the food stamp program. The House recognized the need to take this procedural step but missed the purpose of separation, which is to reform the law once separation has occurred.

This separation can be preserved only if a conference committee is not used as a means to put the agriculture-only farm bill back together with the food stamp bill. An extension should be staggered with two different timelines for the farm programs and the food stamp program. This would help ensure that separation will not be undone by Congress putting the programs back together again at the same time.

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