Farm bill defeated in House

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., promotes this year's renewal of the farm bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 17, 2018. GOP leaders have crafted the bill as a measure for tightening work and job training requirements for food stamps.

WASHINGTON - Hours after conservatives sunk the 2018 Farm Bill on May 18 over new work requirements for food stamp recipients, farmers and farm groups across the nation reacted to Friday morning's vote. 

H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act was defeated in the House, with a final vote of 213 - 198, as 30 Republicans, mostly tied to the Freedom Caucus, joined every chamber Democrat in opposition to strike down the bill.

"We are already starting to hear from farmers across the nation, many of whom are perplexed and outraged at this morning’s vote. They are facing very real financial challenges," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. "We call on all members of Congress not to use farmers and ranchers as pawns in a political game. The risk management tools of the farm bill are too important, particularly at a time of depressed farm prices. We urge the House to pass H.R. 2 as soon as possible.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall called on all members of Congress to not use farmers and ranchers as pawns in a political game.

Along with providing risk management tools for farmers, the bill included stricter work and job training requirements for food stamp recipients.

The farm bill, a twice-per-decade rite on Capitol Hill, promises greater job training opportunities for recipients of food stamps, a top priority for House leaders. Democrats are strongly opposed, saying the stricter work and job training rules are poorly designed and would drive 2 million people off of food stamps. 

Farm bill setback

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind voted against the 2018 Farm Bill, H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, saying Wisconsin farmers need an updated bill "that levels the playing field."

US Rep. Ron Kind

“A farm bill that works for our family farmers, not for powerful special interests in Washington," said Kind in a statement. "I cannot support a farm bill that lavishes huge taxpayer subsidies on millionaires and billionaires. I know we can do better — especially for our farmers who have been struggling these last few years.”

Kind introduced bipartisan amendments to the Farm Bill to create more transparency in the crop insurance and subsidy programs, protect the Conservation Stewardship Program within the Farm Bill Conservation Title, and avoid trade disputes with Brazil due to U.S. cotton subsidies.

His amendments were blocked by the House Committee on Rules. 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, touts the newly-crafted farm bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, as the House plans to debate a long list of amendments on the controversial legislation. House Republicans favor a plan to strengthen work requirements for food stamps, but Democrats say that would hurt the poor.

“We experienced a setback today after a streak of victories all week. We may be down, but we are not out," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) in a statement. "We will deliver a strong, new farm bill on time as the President of the United States has called on us to do. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers and rural America deserve nothing less.”  

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, "A Farm Bill is necessary to provide our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers with the stability and predictability they need. Our farmers feed the people of this nation and the world, and they deserve the certainty of a Farm Bill.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the "rejection of the House version" of the farm bill highlights concerns that family farmers have with the "failed legislation," such as eliminating conservation programs and funding that provide farmers with needed tools to be good stewards of natural resources. 

The 2018 Farm Bill also reverses progress toward expanding farmer access to local, regional and specialty markets and makes unnecessary cuts to "programs that feed hungry Americans," Johnson added. 

Roger Johnson

"At a time when farmers and ranchers are in significant financial strain due to years of depressed prices, this bill does not make necessary improvements to the farm safety net," said Johnson. “Major changes need to be made to this bill. Farmers Union urges the House to send it back to committee to make significant improvements worthy of the men and woman who feed, fuel and clothe our nation.”

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association Executive Director of Government Affairs, Allison Cooke said the vote "is a disappointing outcome," for American cattlemen and women and vows to work with Congress to get the bill passed before Sept. 30 

"It is unfortunate that some in Congress chose not to stand with the farmers and ranchers who work hard every day to feed families in the United States and around the world," Cooke said in a statement. "The bill addresses a number of priorities for producers, including an expanded Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank, funding for environmental stewardship initiatives, and trade promotion programs.”

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) called the vote a "stunning defeat." 

“Today’s vote should prove once and for all that Congress cannot pass a bill this important by dividing Republicans and Democrats; dividing what’s right for farmers and what’s right for families; pitting the largest farms against the smallest,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and Executive Director of NYFC. 

“We need a farm bill that works for, and includes, all of us. One that supports farmers and ranchers struggling through an economic downturn or growing amidst a drought, and one that can sustain farming as a viable livelihood for future generations," Shute said. "NYFC farmers brought Members of Congress to their farms, wrote op-eds, and sent countless letters with one theme: We cannot wait another farm bill to address the structural barriers holding our generation back. The House farm bill presented today didn’t heed that call. The House was right to defeat it, and let’s hope it’s back to the drawing board.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) was "deeply disappointed with the failure to pass H.R. 2.

“Plain and simple: the farm bill matters," said ASA President and Iowa soybean grower John Heisdorffer. "U.S. soybean growers and everyone involved in agriculture depend on this vital piece of legislation. This bill provides a farm safety net, improves conservation, places value on exports and feeds our nation.”

ASA was pleased with the outcome of several amendments, including strong votes to defeat amendments that would have eliminated vital farm programs.

“Soybean growers are facing a down farm economy and significant export uncertainty, and are relying on a strong farm bill," Heisdorffer said. "The House failure to pass a farm bill only adds to the uncertainty across rural America.”

The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) encourages lawmakers to remain committed to delivering real reform to millions of able-bodied Americans who are dependent on food stamps.

According to the FGA, common sense reforms included in the farm would have expanded work requirements to more able-bodied adults and moved millions of Americans from welfare to work. Despite a booming economy and a record number of open jobs, the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps remains near record-high levels, having nearly tripled since 2000.

“With over six million open jobs across the country and a near-record low unemployment rate, there is no better time to move millions of able-bodied Americans off welfare and back to work,” said FGA President and CEO Tarren Bragdon. “Lawmakers should continue to advocate for expanded work requirements and commonsense reforms that will give millions of Americans the opportunity to lift themselves out of dependency.”

Not the way to write a bill

However, some groups supported the failure of the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) opposed the bill as it was presented and stressed the need for a more partisan approach in the next draft.

WFU President Darin Von Ruden said, "A lot is at stake in this farm bill — farmers across the country are facing depressed commodity markets and, here in Wisconsin, we’re losing dairy farms at the rate of 1.5 per day. While it is important that we get safeguards in place to help these farmers, it’s also important that this next farm bill makes the substantive improvements that American farmers so desperately need to ensure a future for their farms.”

Darin Von Ruden

Von Ruden added," This version of the bill was heavily partisan, rushed and likely to have given us more of the same. It would have weakened payment limitations, watered down definitions to allow subsidy loopholes, backtracked on farm program limitations, made excessive cuts to nutrition assistance and slashed $1 billion from conservation programs. Farmers are looking to our political leaders to craft a bill that better supports family farms and rural Americans.”  

WFU is urging legislators to make a number of improvements to the farm bill, including:

  • Reinstate a more reasonable definition of “actively engaged in farming,” so that farm program support goes only to farmers.
  • Tighten up farm program payment caps and payment limitations, so the Farm Bill is a safety net for average farmers.
  • Reinstate the Market Stabilization feature that was originally intended to be part of the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, which would reduce the cost of the dairy program to taxpayers.
  • Restore conservation funding to protect soil and water resources. 
  • Focus nutrition dollars on actually feeding people, especially children, rather than more red tape.

The National Family Farm Coalition was encouraged by the defeat of the bill, saying the legislation offered little support to family farmers while "proposing punitive work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), making detrimental changes to conservation, and cutting funding for important programs that support local food systems."

Jim Goodman, Wisconsin dairy farmer and NFFC board president, said, “This bill missed a key opportunity to fix the ongoing crisis in the dairy sector and the downturn in the farm economy. With the bill’s defeat, Congress can now go back to work to draft a true bipartisan farm bill — one that is supportive of family farmers, rural communities, SNAP recipients, and the environment.” 

In a letter sent to Congressional agriculture leadership and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue last month, NFFC and over 50 allied organizations proposed several measures to address the dairy crisis, including setting a floor price of $20 per hundred pounds of milk and implementation of a supply management program to ensure dairy farmers are protected from price drops due to oversupply. Supply management policies are attracting increased attention in recent months from farmers and policy experts who see them as common sense provisions to stabilize farm prices.

“What this means that as farmers we are not allowed to get paid what it costs us to raise our cows and make milk,” said Brenda Cochran, dairy farmer from Westfield, Penn. “Every other business can set its price based on cost of operations, but the current farm bill does not allow us to do that. This is causing undue stress on our families, our lives, and our farms. It’s time for the farm bill to stop protecting corporate agriculture’s interests and instead support family farmers’ rights as required by law.”

Monica Mills, Executive Director of Food Policy Action called the bill "a non-starter from its beginnings”

“It was written behind closed doors with no bipartisan consultation or input. That is not the way to write a bill that affects every American and the food we eat at every meal every single day.” Mills added, “We dodged a disastrous farm bill that would have been harmful for millions of Americans.  It would have taken food out of the mouths of hungry children in order to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into the already brimming bank accounts of wealthy, big-Ag farm operations. It would have taken critical funds away from farmers markets.  It would have cut vital conservation programs.  We need a farm bill that balances the needs of all Americans.”

    The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee is still in process of working on its version of the Farm Bill.

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.