House Ag Committee Advances Contentious Farm Bill

May 27, 2024

By Ryan Hanrahan

Agri-Pulse’s Noah Wicks, Rebekah Alvey, and Philip Brasher reported that “Republicans pushed their $1.5 trillion farm bill through the House Agriculture Committee early Friday with the help of four critical Democratic votes, giving the massive legislation some momentum as it heads to an uncertain future in the full House.”

“The four Democrats who supported the bill were Don Davis of North Carolina, Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, Eric Sorensen of Illinois and Sanford Bishop of Georgia,” Wicks, Alvey and Brasher reported. “The committee approved the bill, 33-21, after a rancorous debate that started at 11 a.m. Thursday and didn’t end until after midnight Friday.”

Progressive Farmer’s Chris Clayton reported that “holding a four-vote edge in committee, Republicans blocked attempts by Democrats to amend the bill. In a series of votes that went along party lines of 25-29, the GOP-led committee rejected:

  • A push by Democrats to restore requirements that conservation money from the Inflation Reduction Act focus on climate-smart practices.
  • Language that would keep the USDA secretary’s authority over the Commodity Credit Corporation.
  • Democratic efforts to restore $27 billion in funding over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • An attempt to ensure meatpackers with USDA contracts follow child-labor laws.”

Most Contentious Moments Happened During SNAP Debate

The Hill’s Saul Elbein reported Thursday that the issue of food aid “set off partisan fireworks at the contentious session, during which representatives from both sides of the aisle took to the dais to extol the virtues of bipartisanship while accusing their opposite numbers of throwing those values in the trash.”

“‘I served for 26 years in the United States military, oftentimes below the poverty level and using these programs,’ Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) said,” according to Elbein’s reporting. “‘So I will not be lectured to by people who are saying that I’m trying to cut these benefits. It’s not true and it’s disingenuous.'”

“Republicans ‘cannot have it both ways,’ Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) shot back,” Elbein reported. “‘I have heard my colleagues say that this is not a SNAP cut. But dozens of outside experts disagree.'”

Agri-Pulse’s Wicks, Alvey and Brasher reported that “the committee’s top Democrat, David Scott of Georgia, blasted Republicans over the cut to nutrition spending, saying Republicans were trying to ‘murder’ SNAP. ‘If you want a farm bill, you’ve got to take care of this program,’ he said.”

Elbein reported that “the proposed legislation, unveiled by Committee Chair Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-Pa.) last week, would draw on SNAP as a source of funds to direct subsidies to commodity farmers, largely a few thousand growers of rice, cotton and peanuts. The measure would not reduce current SNAP levels. But it would freeze the current list of covered products, and the values allowed to purchase them, at their present levels — though these would still be able to increase with inflation.”

In the nutrition debate, “there are wide disagreements between the Congressional Budget Office and House leadership over how much money the SNAP changes would actually save,” Elbein reported.

Farm Safety Net Increases

While it remains unclear if the bill has an actual path to becoming law after being advanced by the House Ag Committee, Clayton reported that it does address concerns from a number of industry groups by bolstering “commodity programs for producers by an estimated $45 billion over 10 years. The bill would increase reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC), as well as increase coverage levels and payments under the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program.”

“The bill would increase the statutory reference price for crops by 10% to 20%. Boosting the statutory reference price will then boost the calculation used to create the effective reference price,” Clayton reported. “Corn would go from $3.70 a bushel per acre to $4.10 bpa, nearly an 11% increase. Soybeans would go from $8.40 bpa to $10 bpa, up 19%. Wheat would increase from $5.50 bpa to $6.35 bpa, up 15%. Rice reference prices would increase from $14 per cwt to $16.90 per cwt, up more than 20%.”

“In crop insurance, the bill also expands premium subsidy support for beginning farmers and ranchers,” Clayton reported. “It increases premium support for the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) to 80%, providing access to all commodities to a policy similar to the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) in cotton while also keeping SCO for Price Loss Coverage.”

CCC Funding Authority Changed

Clayton reported that “Republicans also defeated an amendment from Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who also serves as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Bishop moved to drop the provision that would end the Agriculture secretary’s control of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).”

Wicks, Alvey and Brasher reported reported that “Thompson is trying to use the CCC provision to cover the cost of increased commodity program payments and crop insurance subsidies, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that CCC restriction only saves $8 billion over 10 years, far less than the cost of the changes to commodity programs and crop insurance titles.”

Thompson, however, “said the Biden and Trump administrations have used the CCC for an average of $10.7 billion a year, which allows the justification to spend $50 billion over 10 years,” Clayton reported.

Senate Ag Response

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee, said in a press release after the passage of the bill in the House Ag Committee that “I’m glad that Chairman Thompson is working to move the process forward so that we can complete our work on the 2024 Farm Bill this year. Despite areas of common ground, it is now clear that key parts of the House bill split the Farm Bill coalition in a way that makes it impossible to achieve the votes to become law.  And it is also clear that we do not have time to waste on proposals that cannot meet that goal.”

Ranking member John Boozman said in his press release that “I commend the members of the House Ag Committee that voted in support of advancing legislation that is long overdue and will help ensure the vitality of farmers, ranchers and rural communities in spite of continued inflationary pressures and depressed market prices. This is the first real progress toward a new farm bill becoming law. My colleagues and I on the Republican side of the committee are committed to moving the process forward.”

What are the Next Steps?

Agri-Pulse’s Rebekah Alvey reported Thursday afternoon that “the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill likely won’t get a floor vote until September at the earliest due to the appropriations process that is expected to dominate the chamber’s work this summer, Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., told Agri-Pulse Thursday during a break in the committee’s debate over the legislation.”

“It’s not certain the bill will be brought to the floor at all, given the narrow GOP majority in the House and the lack of legislative time left before the November elections,” Alvey reported. “Before reconvening the committee’s debate Thursday afternoon, Thompson said in an interview that his next step will be reaching out after the committee vote to talk to Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Republicans on her panel.”

“He said there’s a ‘serious commitment’ to complete the fiscal 2025 appropriations process before the House recess in August. Because of this, the next likely open spot for a farm bill floor vote is in September,” Alvey reported.

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