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Farm Bill Showdown: House Proposal Sparks Partisan Clash

17 May 2024
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House Agriculture Chair G.T. Thompson unveiled a long-awaited farm bill that significantly boosts safety-net programs but also crosses key red lines for Democratic leaders, setting the stage for a contentious battle in the Senate over the essential legislation.

The massive $1.5 trillion legislative package, presented by Thompson (R-Pa.), is likely to attract some Democratic support when the House Agriculture Committee conducts a markup next week. 

However, releasing the draft has also sparked an already partisan debate over food and agriculture policy, a field long characterized by bipartisan cooperation.

Democrats on the committee are under significant pressure from party leaders to reject Thompson’s proposal and support an alternative outlined by Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). This political wrangling could impact Democrats in rural, agriculture-heavy districts who are already facing strong Republican opposition.

The farm bill encompasses a broad array of rural funding, farm safety net and nutrition programs that are crucial for food production and, specifically, to rural communities. 

Historically, all appropriations bills are passed in regular order—meaning full passage of all 12 necessary, or so-called “must-pass” bills, through both chambers, which are then signed by the President by the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1.

Congress passes 12 appropriations bills every year to ensure federal agencies and programs are funded. Government shutdowns used to be uncommon however; since 2013, our government has had three shutdowns that ranged from 48 hours to 34 days. According to media sources, lawmakers are grappling with the political implications of their decisions back home.

Lawmakers have already delayed the farm bill once, extending existing authorizations last year after failing to reach an agreement on a new funding package. That extension expires 30 September, 34 days before the 2024 election, adding urgency to the legislative process.

The primary sticking points in the current draft involve the allocation of funding and policy disagreements. Thompson’s bill is proposing significant increases in funding for safety net programs, supporting farmers struggling with inflation. It also doubles funding that will help farmers access offshore markets, increases funding for specialty crops and expands access to energy-cost reduction for farmers and rural small businesses. Thompson’s version also includes measures to enhance tracking of farmland purchases by foreign entities.

However, the bill also contains some provisions that have drawn strong opposition from senior Democrats. One of these is a limit on future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, which calculates benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which could restrict a future Democratic administration from increasing SNAP benefits and prevent a GOP president from reversing President Biden’s expansion of the program. While food benefits would still increase with inflation, nutrition programs would continue to account for over 80% of the farm bill’s total spending.

Despite opposition, the House draft bill would also expand access to SNAP and other anti-hunger initiatives, such as food banks and nutrition improvements for seniors and remove the lifetime ban, established in 1996, for individuals with previous felony drug convictions.

Democratic leaders are confident they can block any farm bill lacking their support, given the Republicans’ slim majority while Republicans are looking to replace at least a dozen Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee who represent rural, agriculture-heavy districts.

Jeffries criticized the House bill as a product of “extreme MAGA Republicans” and deemed it “dead on arrival” for substantial Democratic support. Thompson dismissed this remark as “unserious,” defending his proposal as a robust and serious approach that addresses critical agricultural needs.


Catalyst

Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.