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 Agriculture.com 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."
(Agriculture.com 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."