The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday (July 11) narrowly approved a five-year farm bill measure that did not include funding for food stamp programs. The passage creates uncertainty with U.S. farm policy because the vastly different U.S. Senate farm bill included food stamp funding.

HR 2462, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, was approved in a narrow 216 to 208 vote. U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle; Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted for the bill. All Democrats and just 12 Republicans in the House voted against what is being called the “split” farm bill because it did not include a measure to fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – aka, the food stamp program.

Thursday’s vote was the second time the U.S. House voted on a farm bill.

On June 20, a farm bill failed on a 195-234 vote with Crawford, Griffin, and Womack voting for it. Cotton voted against it and cited opposition to the food stamp program as a reason for his vote.

The U.S. Senate on June 10 approved a five-year farm bill by a 66-27 vote, with U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voting for the legislation that would cut $4 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program. Boozman was one of 15 Republicans to join with Democrats in voting for the legislation.

Cotton said Congress can pass a farm bill and later address the food stamp program.

“I trust the Senate Democrats, having already voted for very similar farm programs, will support speedy passage of this bill and not insist upon holding Arkansas farmers hostage to Barack Obama’s wasteful food-stamp program. The Congress will work to reform food stamps at a later date, but it should pass a Farm Bill now,” Cotton noted in a statement.

Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, was not happy with the split bill vote. He said the decision to separate farm policy from the food stamp program “put members of the Arkansas delegation in a very difficult situation.” He also expressed concern that the split bill raises the possibility that a farm bill may never happen.

“We are disappointed in House leadership for choosing to split the bill and repealing the permanent law status of the Farm Bill, which creates the possibility that we will never write a Farm Bill again,” Veach said in a statement. “We still have a long way to go to get to passage of a five-year Farm Bill. The challenge will be in conferencing the vastly different proposals from the Senate and the House.”

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he hopes to get a combined plan to Obama.

“Today was an important step toward enacting a five-year farm bill this year that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty, provides regulatory relief to small businesses across the country, significantly reduces spending, and makes common-sense, market-oriented reforms to agricultural policy. I look forward to continuing conversations with my House colleagues and starting conversations with my Senate colleagues on a path forward that ultimately gets a farm bill to the President’s desk in the coming months,” Lucas said in a statement.

Provisions of the bill passed Thursday include:

• Direct Payments are eliminated and no payments are made to those who don’t farm;

• Traditional farm policy is cut by almost $23 billion – a record 36 percent reduction;

• Cuts include repealing Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments, the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program, and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE);

• Seeks to streamline 23 conservation programs into 13, with a projected savings of more than $6 billion;

• Producers are limited to a risk management option that offers protection only when they suffer significant losses.

• The language would change crop insurance, a successful public/private partnership that ensures farmers have skin in the game, according to Lucas; and,

• In total, farm policy spending is reduced by almost $14 billion.

Link here for a PDF of HR 2462.

Following are comments from the other members of the Arkansas House delegation.

• U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford
“Today, the House took the first step in the long process of putting a full, five-year Farm Bill in place. This is not a perfect bill, nor is this approach my first choice. However, more than anything Arkansas must have a Farm Bill in place. Passage of this measure puts us one step closer in getting to conference with the Senate, where I hope to continue to influence the debate in a way that represents our state’s best interests.

“We still have a long road ahead. I plan to work as closely as possible with Arkansas’ agricultural community to make sure what is signed into law is positive for the industry and responsibly reforms government programs. I believe this bill is a positive step toward eliminating duplicative programs and streamlining government spending. We can still reach for reform. We will continue to do so on behalf of Arkansas agriculture and rural America.”

• U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin
“This farm bill represents a good first step towards protecting taxpayers and providing security for Arkansas farmers and ranchers, so I support it. It will reduce spending, cut unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations, eliminate duplicative programs and modernize farm policy by ending direct payments and establishing a new risk-management system to protect farmers who suffer significant losses. It ensures the agricultural community isn’t taken backwards to a law passed over half a century ago, and it guarantees affordable food for American families.”

• U.S. Rep. Steve Womack
“Agriculture is the backbone of Arkansas’s economy, and our farmers shouldn’t suffer because of Washington’s dysfunction. While I am frustrated with today’s vote, failing to pass a farm bill is not an option. With the passage of H.R. 2642, the House can now turn its attention to reforming the massive nutrition programs that have put one-in-six Americans on food stamps while ensuring that we provide critical assistance to those who are truly in need.”

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Michael Tilley

Michael Tilley

Michael Tilley is the president and managing editor of The City Wire, a content partner with Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by email at MTilley@TheCityWire.com.