The House of Representatives didn’t do it… again. Most “in the know” politicians expected the House to pass a Farm Bill on June 20, 2013. Yet, in an oddly bi-partisan vote of 234 “nays” (172 majority Republicans and 62 minority Democrats) and 195 “yeas,” the House of Representatives didn’t pass the bill. Mainly, Republicans and Democrats aligned to say “nay” because of the magnitude of SNAP cuts (too high for Democrats and too low for Republicans).
The House is now two for two. Last year, Congress failed to pass a new Farm Bill, letting the old one lapse last September. Afterward, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) produced a limited Farm Bill extension, running to the end of September 2013, as part of a deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and expenditure reductions.
The largely unexpected failure of this year’s Farm Bill elicited very different opinions from farm and food sectors. Dean Norton, an American Farm Bureau board member, expressed disappointment in a New York Times article: “While there were concerns over certain provisions… we were hoping for its passage and a vigorous debate in conference (that) would reach an appropriate compromise… a fair safety net for the people who produce healthy, local food and the consumers who need help putting it on their dinner tables.”
Other groups hailed the failure. Jim Weill, of the Food Research and Action Center, is quoted in a FRAC press release: “House Members who voted against this bill because of its awful SNAP provisions have shown they care about the hungriest people in America – children, seniors, working families, unemployed workers, and individuals with disabilities – who are struggling every day to meet their basic needs and to put food on the table. The House did the right thing, and we applaud them for it.”
Why is this important? Historically, Farm Bills have provided safety nets for both farmers and eaters. Ideally, Farm Bills provide farmers with the security of “knowns”: in an otherwise highly risky business, farmers can plan for the future – what to plant and how to invest in their farms. Farm Bills also provide food security for millions of Americans including children, the aged, the disabled, as well as those suffering economically.
The absence of a real Farm Bill leaves important programs unfunded and important reforms undone. The Biden-McConnell Farm Bill extension included none of the significant cost-saving commodity subsidy and insurance reforms of the Senate version. This Farm Bill also failed to renew funding for a number of innovative, job-creating programs including rural development as well as minority, organic, specialty crop, and direct market farming. Additionally, the bill failed to include disaster assistance for livestock and fruit producers. On the up side, the Biden-McConnell Farm Bill included none of the Senate bill’s $4 billion SNAP cuts.
What’s next? While the dust is not settled on the House debacle, there are several ways forward, including the unlikely scenario that the House will abandon its bill and take up the Senate bill. In a radio interview on KFGO, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee, offered a pragmatic course, with a caveat: “I think the best solution… is to take …(the) bill, which was bi-partisan…to the (House) Rules Committee and put it on the floor, (where) it’ll pass and get to conference…if people are willing to do it.”
Slow Food believes that everyone must have access to culturally meaningful, sustainable, and humanely produced food that is good for their health, the planet, and producers – from farm to table. To achieve and maintain good, clean, and fair food, we must advocate for policies that support our principles and against policies that undermine them. We are in the fight today for the best we can get from the 2013 Farm Bill. We are also in the fight for tomorrow – for the next Farm Bill, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and local, state, and national opportunities to advocate for better, clean, and fair food.
Charity Kenyon and Ed Yowell, Slow Food USA Regional Governors