In U.S. House, conservative Republican opposition could prevent passage of 2012 farm bill

U.S. Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, a conservative and a member of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), characterizes the 2012 Farm Bill as “bad, ugly public policy.”  He is among a large group of House members seeking to defeat the measure, and/or separate it into two parts, even as a senior member of the Republican caucus fights for enactment. 

During a tele-conference call this week with activists and some news organizations, including CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Schweikert said he would like to split the legislation – with one part dealing with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, i.e. food stamps), and the other dealing with agricultural policy, including price supports per se. 

Although the bill, House Resolution 6083, faces a late September deadline for renewal of farm programs (which takes place every five years), floor consideration might be delayed until after the November election. 

While Schweikert disagrees with Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas about the merits of the legislation, they each said in separate interviews that H.R. 6083 should be dealt with sooner, rather than later. 

Schweickert believes farm policy needs to be resolved, and potential savings achieved, before a series of November-to-January deadlines loom. He characterized himself as “not enthusiastic” about delay until after the election. 

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Schweikert agreed there is merit in Rep. Lucas’ stated goals to bring “responsibility and visibility” to the farm policy process, including price subsidies and supports. However, Schweikert said, “providing visibility … is not enough of a ‘win’ to buy into this bad bill.”

In all, the RSC has 170 members and has, since before the Reagan presidency, been a primary source for conservative policy initiatives in the lower chamber of Congress. 

This week, Tray Smith of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. “think tank,” wrote that conservative opposition to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management  (FARRM) Act put its future in doubt, despite the 35-11 bipartisan vote Lucas and the Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, achieved after about 15 hours of deliberation. 
RSC Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio representative, says he is “strongly opposed” to the bill: “You would see a significant number of conservatives oppose it and you may see some Democrats oppose. This thing spends a boatload more money than it did in the last farm bill. We went from $600 billion in the last farm bill in [2008] to almost a trillion dollars.” 

Diane Katz, a Heritage research fellow in regulatory policy, characterized farm subsidies as “the nation’s largest corporate welfare program — the costs of which burden taxpayers and increase food prices.” Around 45 million people – one of every seven Americans, are in the food stamps program (SNAP), at an estimated cost of $73 billion a year.

Lucas and his colleagues trimmed the rate of growth in SNAP, projecting $16 billion in savings over a decade, about 2 percent of total food stamp spending. These projected savings have been assailed by many liberal activists, and criticized by organizations such as the national Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

While Lucas and Peterson built a strong bipartisan majority on the Agriculture Committee, the bill still drew the opposition of seven Democrats and four Republicans on the panel. The measure in its House-committee approved form projects total savings of $35.1 billion from 2013-22 from the Congressional Budget Office’s baseline. 

Human Events, a weekly newspaper, credits the legislation with both food stamp reductions and lower costs for environmental programs. 

On July 5, when CBO released the estimated spending reduction in the House committee version, staff explained in an online summary, “Because the proposal would affect direct spending, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. Enacting the proposed legislation would not affect federal revenues. CBO has not estimated the additional discretionary spending that would result from implementing the proposal; such spending would be subject to appropriation actions. CBO also has not reviewed the proposal for intergovernmental or private-sector mandates.” 

Lucas, in a joint press release with Peterson early this month, said, “Our efforts over the past two years have resulted in reform-minded, fiscally responsible policy that is equitable for farmers and ranchers in all regions and will lead to improved program delivery. This bill is an investment in production agriculture and rural America. Those of us in the agriculture community are quick to point out that our producers provide us with the safest, most abundant, most affordable food and fiber supply in the history of the world. We say it because it’s true.”

Rep. Peterson wants floor action before the current farm bill expires on September 30, contending that “otherwise we jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of our nation’s fragile economy.”
According to Lucas, Peterson and House Agriculture Committee staff, the measure pending before the full House achieves savings promised in the CBO estimate, repeals or consolidates some 100 programs, pressures discretionary spending authority downward, restrains growth in the SNAP, repeals “direct payments, countercyclical payments” and other programs to save as much as $14 billion, consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 and provides regulatory relief for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Republican Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, another member of the RSC, wants greater reductions in farm spending, and is especially critical of the Senate bill. He says costs could soar to nearly $1.4 trillion under the upper chamber’s approach.

That Senate version passed 64-35 in late June, incorporating some $4.5 billion in projected spending reductions. That reduction was enough to attract liberal criticism. Some analysts believe that House-Senate conferees might attempt to fashion a conference compromise between the Senate version and the House committee version. 

Rep. Lucas, however, has said he prefers to work through “the process” in the House to fashion a distinctive House version before resort to other methods.