Congress should table the Farm Bill

Here's a quick recap. The Senate passed another bloated version of the Farm Bill in May, one providing funds for food stamps and farm programs for the next five years. The House rejected a similar full version of the bill in June, and then approved a "farm only" version in July. This last vote was largely along party lines, with 0 Democrats voting in support of it, and only 12 Republicans voting against it.

Splitting the farm bill was the right thing to do, but it's only the first step. By separating the food stamps from the farm programs, Congress can consider each part on its own merits without being distracted by the other. Splitting the Farm Bill is not an end in itself; it's a means to improving farm policy.  The essential second step is a full and open amendment process, something that was woefully missing on the House floor.

Conservative organizations took a lot of heat for calling for splitting the bill and then opposing the "farm only" farm bill that came up later, but this was also the right thing to do. This criticism is short-sighted and it overlooks the fact that the resulting half-version failed to include any reforms to farm programs. It extended and expanded many of the handouts for Big Ag, and it would cost taxpayers $195 billion over the next decade. Also, the rule adopted for the bill barred representatives from making any changes to the bill; that’s a nonstarter.

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During the floor debate, House Democrats argued that removing food stamps from the farm bill would increase hunger in America. As Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put it, the bill would take “food out of the mouths of babies.” But this claim is misguided and false—food stamp spending would not be impacted by the farm-only Farm Bill. Food stamp spending is appropriated annually, so this program will continue even if Congress does nothing. When Congress allowed Farm Bill programs to expire last summer, it appropriated funds for food stamps in a separate continuing resolution, so the program was unaffected.

Current farm programs expire on September 30—so, what now? Congress faces a number of possibilities, each with its own set of political challenges. One option is going to conference with the House-passed farm only version with the Senate-passed full version, but this begs the question of what to do with food stamps. Another option is doing nothing and reverting back to agricultural law dating from the 1940s known as "permanent law," but this will eventually wreak havoc on commodity markets.

The least-worst option right now is to extend current farm law for one year. This is what Congress should do. This would give lawmakers enough time to find real reforms to Farm Bill programs and bring them up to match current economic realities. Current farm law certainly has its problems, but extending it is better than locking in five more years of corporate welfare.

Hanson is a policy analyst at Americans For Prosperity.