story by Roby Brock, a TCW content partner and owner of Talk Business
Things didn’t go according to script.
A little more than a week after the U.S. Senate passed its bipartisan version of a five-year farm bill, the House of Representatives couldn’t muster enough votes from either side to pass a competing measure.
On Thursday (June 20), the House Farm Bill failed on a 195-234 vote with U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voting for it and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, opposing the bill.
Cotton cited opposition to the food stamp program as a reason for his vote. The program, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has been a political football in the debate.
Cotton and numerous Republicans opposing the bill wanted more cuts to SNAP, while Democrats complained the legislation went too far in cutting $20 billion over the next decade to the low-income food stamp program.
“Because 80% of this bill was food stamps and Arkansas farmers expected to receive less than 1% of the bill’s whopping $940 billion price tag, it was a bad deal for Arkansas farmers and taxpayers,” Cotton said.
However, the Food Stamp Act is considered an “entitlement” program, meaning the failed Farm Bill vote will not result in a reduction of any spending without a change in policy or appropriation. Without a measure, spending for SNAP is expected to remain at current levels or could grow.
The comprehensive Farm Bill, officially titled the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013, also addressed a variety of farming policy, including conservation programs, crop insurance, marketing loans for commodities, and target prices for crops.
“Today’s vote was about protecting Arkansas farmers and making meaningful reforms to farm and food programs,” said Womack. “The FARRM Act would have done that… I remain committed to reducing spending, but our government is divided and our opportunities are limited. It’s a shame that we squandered this one.”
Thursday’s failed vote sent a ripple effect through the state’s agricultural community, which accounts for nearly one-fourth of the state’s economy and is an $8 billion Arkansas industry.
Ag interests expressed disappointment in the House vote and raised issues of uncertainty with the farming programs in the bill.
“I am surprised and very disappointed,” said Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. “We had all of agriculture supporting this proposal, and we believed we were going to get it passed.
“To have this vote fail the way it did leaves us a difficult situation. The American farmer is left without much of a safety net, or without the ability to plan, long-term, for their farms. The House started working on this bill back in early 2012. It has taken us 18 months to even get it to a vote in the House, and to have it go this way makes me question whether we will see another proposal from the House this year. It leaves so many questions unanswered.”
The Arkansas Rice Producers’ Group and the Arkansas Rice Federation issued a joint statement calling the vote a “setback.”
“In addition to the stability needed across the farming community, the farm bill offers hunger assistance to those that need it most and funds vital research that is required if we are going to meet the growing population of the world,” said Arkansas Rice Producers’ Group Chairman Dow Brantley.
“The Arkansas rice industry appreciates the votes and support of Representatives Crawford, Griffin, and Womack, and we commend the leadership of Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota. We urge Congress to work together to find a path to get a farm bill reauthorized,” he added.
The Agricultural Council of Arkansas, which represents row crop interests in the state, also thanked Crawford, Womack, and Griffin, and stopped short of criticizing Cotton by name.
“Unfortunately, a hyper-partisan House of Representatives has left farmers, businesses and consumers out to dry. We hope that all members who voted no on this bill will hear from their constituents in the coming weeks and reconsider their votes. We remain optimistic that compromise is still an option before current law expires at the end of September,” said Andrew Grobmyer, Executive Vice President for the group.