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Farm groups oppose split bill

One of the largest coalitions of agriculture-related industries sent a letter to the leader of the House of Representatives Tuesday opposing a move by some members to split the nutrition title from the rest of the farm bill.

Because spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food programs takes up more than three-fourths of the farm bill, some Representatives from rural states have proposed trying to pass two bills, one for nutrition and one for remaining programs.

National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation gathered support of 532 groups who said, in essence, that it's a bad idea in a letter sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

The groups told Boehner that they "strongly urge you to bring the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013) back to the Floor as soon as possible."

"Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation, and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support," the organizations said. "It is vital for the House to try once again to bring together a broad coalition of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to provide certainty for farmers, rural America, the environment, and our economy in general and pass a five-year farm bill upon returning in July. We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward."

Chandler Goule, a lobbyist for National Farmers Union, told that his group contacted the staffs of House leaders before sending the letter. All were "very helpful" he said, describing those who work for Boehner as well as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), and the committee's ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN). Goule said he also reached out to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). "Leader Cantor's office absolutely did not respond," Goule said.

"The idea of splitting the bill, this is coming from Leader Cantor's office. It is designed to do two things--cut SNAP benefits more and to dismantle the farm program," Goule asserted. "It's easier to do that if you split the bills."

( messaged Cantor's press aides Tuesday but so far has not gotten a response.)

Goule also said that farm programs might be hurt more with two separate bills because nutrition spending has different permanent legislation that isn't the same as the farm bill, which amends permanent farm legislation passed in 1938 and 1949.

"Nutrition doesn't need to be reauthorized. It's got its own permanent legislation," Goule said.

Farm Bureau's approach to commodity programs in the farm bill often differs from that of Farmers Union. But when Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher was asked if her group shares NFU opposition to splitting the vote on nutrition and the rest of the farm bill, she said, "Absolutely. We want to get it done, but I think going with a split vote is really bad for the future of farm programs."

Some farm groups are hoping that the House will take up the farm bill again after this week's July 4 recess. Thatcher isn't certain when that will happen.

"It could be next week or it could be December," she told

"I don't think the Republicans want to be embarrassed again," she said, referring to the surprise defeat of the farm bill on June 20. The House leadership isn't likely to bring the farm bill to the floor again until they've done a whip count of votes and determined they have the required 218 to pass the bill, she said.

"The sky is not going to fall if it doesn't happen next week, and we know that because we were in this situation a year ago," Thatcher said. Just like a year ago, doing nothing risks having the 1938 and 1949 permanent law take effect again, with much higher commodity price supports poised to kick in. But that likely wouldn't start until January of next year.

So far, the leadership in the Senate has said it opposes extending the existing 2008 farm law again, as Congress did over the New Year holiday this year. An extension is one way to avoid triggering the outdated permanent farm law.

The permanent farm legislation is also much shorter and lacks a credit title and newer programs like the energy title.

Goule said he thinks lack of a credit title in the permanent law may be one reason that many lending organizations, including the Farm Credit Council and the American Bankers Association, signed the letter as well.

You can view the letter and list of signers here.

Goule and Thatcher said the number of signers is the largest group to back farm bill passage in several years.

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