UPDATE: The House passed the farm bill described below.
House Republicans have voted to split the Farm Bill into two separate pieces of legislation - one that deals with the actual farm policy part of the bill and one that deals with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
Splitting food stamps away from the larger farm bill has been a strategy that has long been advocated by conservative activists. Food stamps get a lot of attention, but the actual farm policy normally contained in the farm bill contains some of the most egregious examples of government waste and abuse. Price supports, direct payments, and other forms of agricultural subsidies waste billions of dollars every year, drive up the price of food for average Americans, and puts money in the pockets of big-business farmers. Far more than food stamps, these pieces of the farm bill need reform.
Unfortunately, what has now happened is that House Republican leadership has brought the incredibly flawed farm policy bill to the floor largely intact. The entire point of splitting the farm bill would be to reform both parts of it. It's politically untenable to reform the whole thing. Breaking it up makes it easier. Breaking up the farm bill is merely a means to an end, but the House Republican leadership is treating it as an end in and of itself.
In a press conference today, Speaker Boehner said that "the bill that's on the floor is the same bill that was on the floor one or two weeks ago." That in and of itself would be a good enough reason to vote against the current farm bill. But as Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute points out, it's a lie: the new farm bill never sunsets. The new farm bill permanently enshrines awful policies.
The previous bill’s provisions on commodities were only in effect for five years. But take a look at the text of the new bill (H.R. 2642) the Rules Committee posted last night, which includes no “period of effectiveness” for the commodity title whatsoever. That effectively establishes it as the new permanent law. In fact, it also specifically makes our ridiculous sugar program permanent in Section 1301 by inserting language that says it shall be effective for “each succeeding crop year.”
To recap, the new bill text is NOT THE SAME AS WHAT THE HOUSE VOTED ON LAST MONTH, as some members are apparently being told. It includes a very consequential change to permanent law that is rather difficult to parse. I spent much of last night trying to figure it out and had to trade emails with a half-dozen experts before I felt like I understood it. If I’m reading it correctly (and I may not be), this new bill makes permanent our ridiculous sugar program and the new “reference price” system for other commodity crops. That seals into permanent law the sweet deal that cotton, peanuts, and rice got in this bill.
The new farm policy bill is HR 2642, and House Republican leadership has been trying to whip up votes in favor. Democrats were against splitting the bill up in the first place, and will be in favor of going back to the drawing board. Unfortunately, in this case, Democrats are right. If splitting up the farm bill gives us two unreformed bills, it wasn't worth it in the first place.
FreedomWorks has marked the new House Farm Bill as a "key vote." It's shocking but FreedomWorks and House Democrats are going to be on the same side on this one. FreedomWorks echoes that splitting up the farm bill is only worth it if we get reform in the end:
Once again, the whole point of splitting up the Farm Bill was to break up the unholy alliance between urban Democrats and rural Republicans that ensures that the bill passes every five years without significant reform.
House Leadership is trying to pass this bill off as a great reform and a major concession to conservatives. Instead, they are ensuring that fiscal conservatives may never be able to make any significant reforms to this terrible bill ever again.
As FreedomWorks writes, this legislation actually spends more than the bill passed by Senate Democrats. That's embarrassing. The farm bill has long been one of the most fertile grounds for spending and subsidy reforms. The current bill under consideration by the House would make it much, much harder to get real reform.
The Heritage Foundation created an infographic to showcase just where the money in this farm bill will go. Don't be fooled by House GOP leadership's attempt to cram this down our throats.