Farm Bill Update: Insulting the Poor While Complimenting Monsanto
By Patty Lovera
Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to cut almost $40 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the main food assistance program that used to be called food stamps. The bill passed 217-210, largely along party lines, although 15 Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it. The New York Times editorial board captured what the vote means pretty well with the headline “Another Insult to the Poor,” since the cuts passed by the House would kick an estimated 3.8 million people out of the program next year.
Thursday’s vote completed the House’s work on its version of the Farm Bill – mostly. They still need to finish some procedural steps to combine yesterday’s nutrition cut bill with the farm policy portions of the bill passed earlier in the summer. After that is figured out, the Senate and House can start the conference committee process to reconcile their different versions of the Farm Bill.
And there is a lot for the conference committee to figure out. The biggest is the SNAP program. The Senate bill cut $4 billion from SNAP, while the House bill cut almost $40 billion. This is a huge sticking point and Senate Democrats have vowed not to accept a cut that large and the President has threatened to veto any bill with such a cut. This issue alone will make it hard for the conference process to be completed.
The clock is ticking – the current farm bill (which was passed as quickie extension at the end of last year’s drama over the “fiscal cliff”) expires at the end of the month. And between now and then, Congress also has to deal with the small matter of keeping the federal government running past October 1, when the federal budget expires.
The House passed its version of a “continuing resolution” yesterday (Friday) with a vote of 230 to 189 to extend the current budgets until Dec. 15. The CR is getting a lot of headlines because House Republicans used it to try and block the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (also known as health care reform or Obamacare). However, the CR also contains some really bad food policy “riders.”
The first stops USDA from enforcing contract fairness rules for contract poultry growers, allowing big chicken companies to continue to treat them unfairly. Food & Water Watch and hundreds of farm groups worked to include these vital provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill to protect farmers from unfair and deceptive practices by meatpacking and poultry companies.
The other rider is a giveaway to genetically engineered seed companies that would allow the continued planting of genetically engineered crops even when a court finds they were approved illegally. This provision unnecessarily interferes with the judicial review process and picked up the well-deserved nickname of the “Monsanto Protection Act” because it weakens the already inadequate review process for GE crops.
So with the terrible House CR to reconcile, Congress’s plate is full for the next 10 days, which leads many Farm Bill watchers to predict that, for the second year in a row, Congress will let the Farm Bill expire and try to deal with it later this fall.
Stay tuned for ways to get involved in next week’s craziness – we need to tell the Senate that the continuing resolution can’t be used as a tool to gut important food policies.