Seven farm bill fights to watch

House members will need to resolve a slew of fights over amendments to approve a five-year $939 billion farm bill by Thursday.

Here are some of the biggest battles to expect.

Conservatives seek deeper cuts to food stamps

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Most of the funding in the farm bill actually goes to the food stamp program, which has grown vastly over the last two decades.

The House bill would cut $20.5 billion from food stamp programs by eliminating the ability to qualify for multiple government benefits at once. It also makes it harder to get food stamps by virtue of getting home heating aid, but many conservatives don’t see that as enough.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) is the lead sponsor on an amendment to require drug testing for food stamp recipients.


Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) has an amendment to cut any link between home heating and food stamps, while Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) has a provision that would cut food stamp programs to 2008 prerecession levels. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) have similar amendments proposing work requirements for food stamps.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) would end food stamp eligibility for convicted violent rapists, pedophiles and murderers, while Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) adds those convicted of felony drug offenses and treason to the list.

Huelskamp proposes blocking those who entered the country illegally after 1982 from getting food stamps at any point in the future.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) has several amendments that would sever the link between farm subsidies and food stamps. Pairing the two programs in one measure creates a rural-urban alliance that traditionally allows the bill to pass in the face of skepticism of both food stamps and farmer payments.

Liberals in the House will fight efforts to cut food stamp programs.

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) would restore current funding for food stamps. The amendment has no chance of passing, but its level of support will be a key barometer of the level of Democratic votes for the underlying bill. If fewer than 30 Democrats vote against McGovern’s amendment, it could mean the bill is in trouble.

Midwest vs. South

Corn and soy farmers in the Midwest are supporting an amendment by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) to limit price-based subsidies they say distort markets by encouraging farmers to plant certain crops based on what the government is paying.

The amendment would link the supports to a five-year average price and link payments to historic acres rather than planted acres.

Farmers in the South, including rice and peanut farmers, say they need traditional subsidies that are triggered when prices fall and will fight that amendment.

The dairy war

The draft farm bill scraps current milk subsidies and replaces them with a system guaranteeing farmers a margin between feed and milk prices.

Those participating in the margin insurance program have to agree to limit their production when prices plummet, in order to restore higher milk prices. This “Dairy Security Act” aspect of the farm bill is opposed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and industries that use dairy products.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) are leading the charge to strip the production limits from the bill while keeping the margin insurance.

The sugar war

Goodlatte is also a key player in a fight to change the federal sugar program.

The sugar industry of the upper Midwest and Deep South is now supported through a system of nonrecourse loans and import quotas. Candy makers and other big sugar users say their value-added industries are threatened by the higher sugar prices.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) is the chief sponsor of the amendment to change the sugar program.

The egg war

Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) are leading the fight to establish a national standard for egg production.

The amendment would specify that larger cages must eventually be used by egg producers.

Large egg producers support the amendment because it would preempt a slew of state-level animal welfare laws. Pork and other industries oppose it because they fear national standards for other animal pens are coming.

Farm subsidy skeptics

Fiscal conservatives have a slew of amendments meant to target potentially embarrassing agriculture subsidies.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) has several, including one to end the Market Access Program (MAP), which pays for international marketing campaigns.

Critics have long lampooned its spending, including wine tastings for foreign journalists and advertising for raisins.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) would end subsidies for sushi rice and stone production.

Bipartisan skeptics of farm programs will also offer a series of amendments, some of which have a shot of passing.

Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) have introduced an amendment identical to a Senate-approved measure that adopts a 15 percent reduction in crop insurance payments for those making more than $750,000.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) go further and limit crop insurance subsidies for wealthy farmers, ending them for those making more than $750,000.

International food aid skirmish

President Obama’s budget proposed an overhaul of international food aid, which has long been focused on buying and shipping American farm goods to needy areas.

Critics say the approach is costly, reduces the amount of aid made available and actually has the perverse effect of driving poor farmers in developing countries out of business.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) would allow up to 45 percent of food aid to be purchased abroad.