A breakdown on the way to approving a farm bill might say more about the process than the legislation, according to a public policy expert at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Brad Lubben is an assistant professor of Agricultural Economics on the Lincoln campus.
Lubben has watched the fits and starts of a bill that sets farm policy and funds the nutrition program, primarily food stamps.
The Farm Bill won approval in the Senate last year. A version won approval of the House Agriculture Committee. It never came to the House floor for debate and a vote.
That might have foreshadowed the strange twists and turns this year.
The process last year picked up where it left off this year.
The Senate again approved legislation that moved farm policy away from direct payments and toward a risk-management model, emphasizing crop insurance. The Senate also approved cutting about $4 billion over the next 10 years from the food stamp program. The House Agriculture Committee approved a more aggressive bill, one that cut deeper into both sides of the Farm Bill. It failed in the House as conservative Republicans complained it didn’t cut deep enough and Democrats objected to the nutrition program cuts.
The old coalition that held the farm bill together broke apart.
House Republican leaders decided to bring a bill back to the floor that contained only farm policy, about 20% of the bill. It postponed debate on the nutrition program for another day. That bill barely passed.
That process has left many confused about the way forward.
“So, it’s a real challenge to imagine how a bill gets to the finish line going forward given that we still have a house divided like that,” Lubben tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Lubben has more than a passing interest in this process.
“I teach an ag policy course every fall here and I’m figuring out how I’m going to have to re-write part of the course to explain what’s going on here,” Lubben says. “But, definitely, there’s a change in political equation.”
Lubben says he has been optimistic that a new Farm Bill will be approved since the process began three years ago. He says he still holds on to that optimism, despite the path the legislation has been taking, if only because few favor extending the current Farm Bill once again.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]