WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the nutrition portion of the former full farm bill, H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, by a vote of 217-210 Sept. 19, setting the stage for lawmakers to finally move to a farm bill conference.
Farm bill programs are currently operating under a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires Sept. 30, reverting farm policy back to permanent law.
The legislation, championed by Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps. The bill was strongly opposed by House Democrats and some Republicans who charged it would increase hunger by ending benefits for nearly 4 million people in 2014.
The measure also faces a veto threat from the White House. After the vote, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill “stands no chance of becoming law.”
Vilsack said the “vote was a highly partisan step that does nothing to promote a bipartisan, comprehensive farm bill.”
House Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., remains hopeful we’ll see a farm bill this year.
“I remain committed to getting a five-year farm bill on the books this year,” he said in a prepared statement after the vote. “Today’s vote was another step toward that goal.”
But Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, decried the politics of the largely party-line vote.
“We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill,” she said, calling the bill “a monumental waste of time.”
Few people believe a bill will be passed before month’s end.
“It’s obvious that we will not have a new farm bill in place by the time the current one expires,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman in remarks presented Sept. 19 to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City.
“The only extension Farm Bureau supports is a five-year extension that looks a lot like the new farm bill that is working its way through Congress,” he added.
It’s not clear that a conference committee would be able to look at both the farm-only and nutrition-only bills on the same table with the comprehensive Senate farm bill. According to D.C.-based farm journalist Jerry Hagstrom, the newly passed nutrition bill doesn’t contain a measure to merge that bill with the farm-only bill previously approved.
No conferees have been appointed as of presstime.