A farm bill approved last week in the U.S. House of Representatives divorcing agriculture subsidies from food aid to the poor was designed to speed up the legislative process, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Thursday.
The House’s plan, passed with strictly Republican support July 11, contained no outlays for food stamps, redubbed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008. But McMorris Rodgers doesn’t think the bill will emerge from a conference with the Senate unless funds for food programs are reinstated.
“I really don’t see that happening,” McMorris Rodgers said. The House also plans to bring a separate SNAP funding measure to the floor for a vote within a week, she said. Spending would be similar to that proposed in the more traditional House farm bill combining farm support and low-income nutrition assistance that failed to pass several weeks ago.
That proposal cut SNAP funding, totaling around $80 billion annually, by 3 percent. McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Doc Hastings voted in favor of the bill, projected to cost about a half-trillion dollars over five years. Yet it irked dozens of Republicans, including Idaho’s Raul Labrador, who voted against the package.
Without SNAP funds, the new bill’s price tag dropped to just under $200 billion over 10 years to subsidize crop insurance for farmers and other programs. That was enough to gain a majority in the chamber and avoid another year in which the House failed to approve a long-term extension of federal policies affecting not just growers but also researchers, landowners, retailers and others. Many of those measures have existed in some form since the 1930s, but last year the House failed to bring a bill to the floor before the session ended.
“Farmers need that certainty,” McMorris Rodgers said of the farm bill. “We need the research dollars at Washington State University and other research entities.”
Yet the certainty of nutritional support dollars, received by one in four of McMorris Rodgers’ constituents in Eastern Washington, was rocked by the House maneuver. SNAP is a mandatory federal spending program, which means all those eligible must receive benefits by law. But Congress must also set aside money for the program, a decision that has been wedded since the 1970s to farm support programs.
Former House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Spokane, was among the chief architects of the resulting urban/rural coalition and told an interviewer from New York Magazine in 1970 of his pitch to skeptical lawmakers serving on the Agriculture Committee.
“If politics were their motive, they would come out with the best damn food bill conceived to get the city guys to back their farm subsidy,” Foley said. “They aren’t stupid.”
Most federal farm dollars paid to Eastern Washington go to wheat growers. Since 1995, $852 million has been doled out in wheat subsidies to Washington’s 5th Congressional District, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Eric Maier, a Ritzville wheat farmer and legislative chairman for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, said the coalition envisioned by Foley is just as important today to ensure that support continues.
“We do need both pieces of the puzzle, urban and rural,” Maier said.
Farmers are frustrated by the House’s inability to pass long-term policies, especially given their willingness to accept cuts in assistance, Maier said. Agriculture lobbies have accepted plans to do away with direct payments this year, which have been made by the federal government regardless of land use. The move will save an estimated $46 billion over 10 years, but only if a deal is hammered out before current law expires Sept. 30.
“It’s kind of like nobody’s winning here,” Maier said.
He believes another temporary extension is on the horizon, given the gridlock in Congress.
But McMorris Rodgers said that option is not on the table – yet.
“I’ve not heard anyone mention that on Capitol Hill,” she