Uncharted Territory for Farm Bill

Aug 05, 2012

Last week, the House Committee on Rules opted not to take up a one-year extension of the disastrous 2008 farm bill. The fact that a one-year extension, as opposed to the committee-passed five-year bill, was even on the table is uncharted territory and a significant sign that opposition to Washington's "business as usual" approach is growing.

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2012 (H.R. 6083) that passed out of the House Agriculture Committee was an atrocious market-distorting welfare bill rife with special interest handouts, price supports, and new shallow loss crop insurance subsidies. The 10-year spending projections of this bill according to CBO was $957 billion-a 60 percent increase from the 2008 bill that passed by the Pelosi-led Congress despite President Bush's veto.

The nearly $1 trillion price tag - 80% of which goes toward food stamps - coupled with the lack of meaningful reforms and the expansion of crop insurance "safety nets" catalyzed conservative opposition and sent a clear signal to House leadership that this was not a bill that would easily pass on the House floor. Despite calls for bringing the FARRM Act to the floor due to the drought in the Mid-West, opposition remained firm and intensified.

Politico put the intensity of the opposition in context:

Never before in modern times has a farm bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee been so blocked. POLITICO looked back at 50 years of farm bills and found nothing like this. There have been long debates, often torturous negotiations with the Senate and a famous meltdown in 1995 when the House Agriculture Committee couldn't produce a bill. But no House farm bill, once out of committee, has been kept off the floor while its deadline passes.

Not surprisingly, the House then moved on to Plan B, which was to take up a one-year extension of existing farm legislation coupled with drought disaster relief. They would come back to revisit a new farm bill in 2013.

This only exacerbated the fissures on both sides of the aisle.

Attempting to utilize the same trick they did during the transportation debate, many Democrats and some Republicans announced that they would not support any extension unless it was used as a vehicle to go to conference with the Senate on the $1 trillion FARRM Act.

Many Republicans opposed the extension due to its reauthorization of 37 expired programs and still other rock-solid conservative Members refused to support the extension based on principle. This conglomeration of opposition to the extension resulted in the Rules Committee shelving the legislation until after the August recess.

In a Roll Call oped in May, Heritage Action's CEO Michael Needham and COO Tim Chapman put out a marker for conservatives:

While the farm bill's historical bipartisan appeal seems daunting, the ground is fertile for change. If lawmakers are serious about saving the American dream, they must continue these fights. It is not enough to repeal Obamacare and implement a fiscal plan in the vein of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposal, though both are essential. To be committed to limited government, Republican lawmakers must embrace their natural allies and vigorously oppose the upcoming farm bill.

Indeed, opposition to this bill from all sides has been unprecedented. And for now, the outrageous monstrosity that is the FARRM Act appears to have been sidelined, but the fight is far from over.

The drought disaster relief bill, which is little more than a bailout for livestock owners, could be used by the Senate to serve as a vehicle to go to conference and there are still legislative days in September when the House could revisit the idea of a one-year extension.

Nevertheless, gone are the days when such massive market-distorting welfare bills are ushered through final passage without a fight. And when the time comes to stand up for limited government and fiscal sanity, we'll be ready to fight again.

In the Wall Street Journal (sub. req'd), Needham and Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) explain how we will fight:

Instead of removing work requirements, we should be expanding them. Adding common-sense work requirements to the food-stamp program would begin the process of reversing the corrosive aspect of government dependency.

Yet even discussing such measures is difficult, if not impossible, when the food-stamp program is carried under the banner of a farm bill. The Orwellian language of Washington creates unnecessary confusion and makes responsible governing needlessly difficult. It is time to have a farm-only farm bill, and move other policies separately.

After voting against FARRM in the committee, Mr. Stutzman said, "Farmers want Washington to make the tough decisions." He's right. Everyone in America is looking for leadership, and some folks in Washington are finally showing it.

[H1]All subject to change depending on vote tomorrow.