Could there be progress on the Farm Bill?
A move made just before the August recess gives some in the Nebraska’s Congressional delegation hope.
Sen. Mike Johanns says the appointment of Senators to negotiate with the House sends a signal.
“So, I see this as an encouraging sign. Now, I wouldn’t say it guarantees that a farm bill gets done,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Johanns says the appointment of Senate conferees before Congress left on August break is encouraging.
The Senate might be ready to negotiate when Congress returns in September, but the House bill is still missing a chunk.
The House failed to approve the initial Farm Bill submitted by the House Agriculture Committee. Both conservatives and liberals in the House bailed on the bill over food stamps, but for different reasons. Conservatives complained the bill, which proposed $20 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years, didn’t cut deep enough. Liberals countered that it cut too deeply into the nutrition program.
House Republican leaders reacted by bringing a bill to the floor for a vote that contained only farm policy and left out the nutrition program. It barely passed and left Congress uncertain how to proceed.
The two chambers could negotiate on the bills approved, leaving the House without a position to counter the Senate’s much more modest proposal to cut $4 billion from the food stamp program.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry supported the House Agriculture Committee position, telling Nebraska Radio Network Congress needs to close a loophole that allows states to drive up the cost of the program. Some states routinely sign up people for food stamps when they apply for other federal programs.
“Some states are simply signing up people for food stamps even though they personally haven’t asked to be signed up,” according to Fortenberry.
Fortenberry says ending that practice alone could save up to $20 billion over 10 years.
The food stamp program has nearly doubled the past few years, growing to a trillion dollar program. It comprises 80% of the Farm Bill, agriculture policy making up the remaining 20%.
Congressman Adrian Smith worries conservatives missed a chance for real reform by refusing to support the initial farm bill.
“But, again, I don’t want to look backward, I want to look forward. It’s time to get this done and soon,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Smith says farmers and ranchers need the certainty that a five-year farm bill would provide.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]