House members Wednesday worked into the night considering amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill, covering topics from crop insurance to nutrition assistance.
While the legislators filed recorded votes on eight amendments and prep to file a few more starting at 9 a.m. Thursday, Rep. Frank Lucas keep momentum high with an en bloc amendment after roll call votes were taken, approving amendments 59, 62-97 and 103.
With no votes scheduled Friday, the House has limited time to move through all amendments to the bill, but Lucas expects to meet the deadline.
SNAP kicks things off
First out of the gate was a hotly debated amendment from Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to restore the nearly $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Boasting more than 70 co-sponsors, the delegation took a full 20 minutes for discussion.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, spoke against the amendment, explaining that the SNAP cuts housed in the Farm Bill represent decisions made in difficult times.
"The SNAP program does not take one calorie off the plate of anyone who qualifies for the program. We simply close the loopholes that allow states to sign people up into programs without the proper qualifications," Sessions said.
Much interest was drawn to the 2 million low-income people that are expected be removed from the SNAP program if the cuts go through. But Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., attempted to explain the cuts to the opposition, noting that they are based on standing eligibility requirements.
"If you receive some other federal welfare benefit, under present law, you automatically get food stamps. We simply say (in the bill) you have to apply. Demonstrate your income, demonstrate your assets. If you qualify, we'll help you."
Despite the urging of several lawmakers who explained that SNAP cuts would make some school children ineligible for free and reduced lunches, the amendment failed with a 188-234 vote.
An additional amendment allow states the option of drug screening SNAP applicants passed by voice vote, while a few others asking for data on SNAP purchases and regarding the kind of items that can be purchased using SNAP were postponed for a roll call vote at a later date.
Farm Risk Management Election cap
House members also voted on an amendment to cap spending on the Farm Risk Management Election program at 110% of Congressional Budget Office-predicted levels for the first five years of the bill. In past years, Farm Bill spending has been higher than originally budgeted.
Virginia Foxx, D-N.C., explained the amendment as "one beautifully simple proposal" that puts a "finite number on an otherwise infinite liability." The intention, she said, is to better plan for mandatory spending in the bill.
But Lucas, who opposed the amendment, said it would "be a nightmare to administer" and "tie USDA in knots." Further, he noted, the programs as proposed only provide funds only when farmers face significant losses.
"Under this amendment, farmers would go from 100% guaranteed direct loans to a 100% guarantee that the safety net would fall short when they need it the most," he said.
Ultimately, the amendment passed with a 267-156 vote.
Price Loss Coverage
Another expected hurdle for the farm bill was an amendment from Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, to edit the Price Loss Coverage program by setting the target price for all crops at 55% of the five-year rolling Olympic average and change the acreage available for target price supports at 85% of the farmer's base acres.
Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., explained that the proposal sets target prices so high that some commodities are guaranteed an 8% profit.
"By setting the target prices for programs at this historically high level, it will all but ensure a much higher likelihood of government payouts in the future," he said, noting the potential for overplanting and a WTO challenge.
The American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association, too, have pointed out similar concerns with the bill, noting last week that the PLC would "distort planting decisions" and signal a return to the farm policy era of high supports tied to current-year plantings.
"The final farm bill must be more equitable and market-oriented than the current Price Loss Coverage program in the House bill," he said. "They don't want to go back to the previous policies of 1995 when we have market distortion."
But Lucas, who stood by the existing plan, offered to work with Gibbs to develop another option in conference. Gibbs took the deal, and withdrew the amendment to the dismay of supporting farm groups.
“Our collective groups believe the Gibbs amendment would have received strong support on the House floor, and would have made the 2013 farm bill a better piece of legislation overall. As proponents of market-oriented farm policy, we are disappointed to see the amendment withdrawn," ASA, NCGA, Sunflower and Canola Growers noted in a press statement.