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July 8, 2013

Splitting the Farm Bill Is a Bad Idea

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

Some folks in Congress are advocating for splitting the farm bill. American Farm Bureau farm policy specialist Mary Kay Thatcher explains why that’s a bad idea in this story from AFBF’s Johnna Miller.
Miller:It was a pretty big shock around Washington when the House of Representatives failed to pass a new farm bill last month. Those lawmakers are hearing from many that it’s time to try again...now.
Thatcher:All of the farm groups, the conservation groups, even the nutrition groups are saying we want some kind of action.
Miller:But American Farm Bureau farm policy specialist Mary Kay Thatcher says one proposal floating around would be bad news.
Thatcher:Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House has suggested let’s split the nutrition title off from the rest of the farm bill, the conservation, credit, commodities, crop insurance, research title and let’s have two different bills. We’re adamantly opposed to that approach and, in fact, spearheaded a letter with the Farmers’ Union last week where 532 agriculture, crop insurance, conservation, research groups said, “Very bad idea.”
Miller:Most people don’t realize that more than 80 percent of the funding in the farm bill goes to the food stamp program. Thatcher says the marriage between agriculture and nutrition programs has worked well for 40 years, revising and adjusting as needs have changed. And she suspects it would be very hard to pass a farm bill that was good for agriculture if the two were split.
Thatcher:You’re looking at 435 members in the House, 25 percent of whom have zero farmers in their district. How does one go to the Hill and convince one of those members of Congress to support spending money for agriculture? The Senate’s a little bit different. Every senator has some agriculture in his or her state, more important in some states than others, but they look at agriculture as very important and I think sometimes will vote for nutrition programs they would just as soon oppose because they indeed want to help their farmers and ranchers .
Miller:The problem is how to get the 218 votes necessary to pass the bill in the House.
Thatcher:I think the House leadership looks for how else can I get to 218? Do I do more cuts to food stamps to bring on more Republicans? I’ll lose Democrats that way. Or do I do other things that might bring on more Democrats and lose Republicans? But they are diligently looking, I think, for some kind of answer.
Miller:The current farm bill doesn’t expire until September, so Hill-watchers probably won’t be surprised if the issue lapses for a couple of months. And some might ask, so what? What does the farm bill mean to me?
Thatcher:I think the trend we have here in the U.S. is towards a lot more local food. I think people like to support their local farmers and ranchers. I think they like it because they’re more sure that their food is safe here than probably some of it that comes in imports from some other countries. And the farm bill is what ensures that we have those programs in place. I think it’s also important in that people really like having those rural communities there. They’re job providers. We’ve got about 16 million jobs in the U.S. that depend on agriculture and a lot of agriculture depends on the farm bill.
Miller:Johnna Miller, Washington.
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