July 31, 2014

Progress halted on Farm Bill (AUDIO)

Work on a Farm Bill has progressed in Washington, but might run into an obstacle it cannot clear.

The Senate passed a bill. The House Agriculture Committee has passed a bill.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, says House leadership has hesitated to bring the bill to the floor for debate, undermining optimism the work can be completed before the November elections.

“It’s my responsibility, I think, to continue to build momentum so our optimism can actually increase. Let me put it that way,” Fortenberry tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It’s hard to be optimistic right now, where we are, given the resistance we’re receiving in the House of Representatives to full consideration of the bill.”

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California has told Politico it is the intention of House leadership to move the bill. McCarthy indicated House Republicans would have to lobby their membership to insure the votes are there to move it out of the House and into a conference committee with the Senate.

Fortenberry considers the House version a better bill, mainly because it cuts deeper than the Senate bill. Senate supporters have touted the projected savings in that chamber’s bill as a prime reason for its passage. The total price tag of the bill totals nearly $500 million over its five-year lifespan. But, a move away from direct payments to farmers toward a preference for risk-management, mainly through crop insurance, could save as much as $23 billion over a ten-year year period. The bill would also trim the food stamp program.

The House Agriculture Committee bill cuts deeper. It embraces the same overall farm payment philosophy of the Senate, yet moves to change some eligibility requirements in the food stamp program that could save $1.6 billion a year. The Senate proposes only a $400 million cut to food stamps.

Fortenberry defends the committee position. He insists it is not a cut, but merely a reduction in the anticipated increase of the program. The committee proposes to end automatic enrollment in food stamps, a practice in which a person is enrolled to receive food stamps after being enrolled in another social program.

The Farm Bill is followed closely by agricultural interests throughout the country, but food stamps make up 80% of the bill’s spending.

The House will be in session for the next two weeks in Washington, then Congress leaves for a five-week summer break. Members of Congress return for a mere eight legislative days in September. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of the September.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]

AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Congressman Jeff Fortenberry on Farm Bill. [9 min.]