This story first appeared in The Cocklebur

The House Agriculture Committee officially “marked up” Chair Glenn Thompson’s (R-Pa.-15) draft “Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024” (HR 8467) at the end of May, passing Thompson’s version of the next farm bill with few changes. Republicans were able to hold their caucus together and fend of numerous amendments offered by Democrats. Four Democrats joined all Republican committee members in voting 33-21 to approve the draft legislation for the House floor, where a vote is not likely until September. The current farm bill is set to expire on September 30.

While farm bill negotiators now wait for the Democratic-controlled Senate Agriculture Committee to do their part, here are six important lessons we learned during the House debate: 

1.) Republicans will say anything—and use legislative budget tricks—to cut SNAP. Many House Agriculture Republicans falsely attempted to portray their proposed $27 billion cut to SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps”) as a preservation of the status quo. GOP SNAP cuts would, in fact, begin in 2027 under their proposal. More than 40 million poor and working class people currently depend on monthly SNAP grocery benefits to put food on the table. 

2.) Four of 25 Democrats voted for the amended Republican committee draft. Democrats were able to hold their caucus together for the amendment process, but four Democratic members joined the Republicans in the final draft vote. Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.-02), Yadira Caraveo (Colo.-08), Erik Sorensen (Ill.-17) and Don Davis (N.C.-01) all voted to advance the marked-up Committee Report to the House floor. Bishop is one of the House’s most senior legislators. Caraveo, Sorenesen and Davis are all serving in their first terms. All four Democrats are in tight re-election races for their seats in November. 

3.) Republican farm subsidy expansion “pay-for” estimates are highly inflated. In order to pay for their proposed increase to farm subsidies, the House Agriculture Republican draft limits the Secretary of Agriculture’s discretionary Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) budget authority. The CCC is a government-owned corporation created in 1933 to protect farm income and prices. The House committee draft limits the Agriculture Secretary’s discretionary CCC spending power. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculates that the CCC provision would result in a mere $0-$8 billion in deficit reduction. Defiant House Agriculture Republicans claim, without evidence, that their CCC reforms would save $53 billion. That’s a big gap, and fiscal hawks and Democrats are likely to point this out in coming debates. 

4.) The nostalgic “bipartisan Farm Bill Coalition,” responsible for nearly three decades of consistent re-authorization, is in tatters in the House. Farm bill negotiators from both parties repeatedly used their platforms to lament the loss of the historic “bipartisan nature of Farm Bill debates.” This generally accepted narrative rests on the assumption that urban legislators support the bill to meet nutritional needs of low-income residents, while rural legislators garner spending for agriculture subsidies and crop insurance. Over the past several years, many populist Democrats have grown more concerned about corporate power in the food system straining the coalition. The ongoing crusade against SNAP by House Republicans seems to have fully broken this “consensus,” repeatedly causing long delays and uncertainty during the 2012-2014, 2018 and current farm bill debate cycles. 

5.) The House Republican committee draft protects corporate agribusiness and Monopoly Farmer control of the farm and food system at all costs. Even with its increase in farm subsidies and SNAP cuts, the House Republican farm bill does little to address corporate power, decrease pollution or narrow the gap in farm bill benefits between Monopoly Farmers and the hundreds of thousands of farmers left out of the House draft. The Thompson draft fails to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act and ignores checkoff reform. The committee markup also limits state and local government authority to enact environmental standards more strict than federal rules, a provision long sought by corporate meatpackers and Monopoly Farmer factory farms.

6.) The budget deal mandating a “cost-neutral” Farm Bill is the core impediment to re-authorization. The biggest challenge to passing a farm bill remains a bipartisan budget deal that caps federal farm and food spending. That cap creates a zero-sum political stand-off between agribusiness and their Monopoly Farmers versus everyone else: the poor and working class, those fighting climate change, struggling rural communities and millions of farmers who receive few (if any) benefits from the farm bill status quo. 

Bryce Oates

Bryce Oates writes The Cocklebur on Substack and is a Contributing Editor (Rural Community Organizing) at Barn Raiser. He writes about rural policy, people, places and politics. His work includes narrative nonfiction, opinion pieces and Q&A interviews. Bryce studies how the federal budget affects rural counties, farm and food policy, public lands and conservation issues, racial and gender equity in rural areas, climate change, economic inequality, rural demographic data and rural politics. A former farmer, rural economic developer and community organizer, he lives and works in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Jake Davis

Jake Davis is an entrepreneur, farmer, consultant, and policy advisor. His passion for revitalizing rural communities and safeguarding family farms developed early growing up on a diversified farm in Southwest Missouri. He launched Local Root Strategies in 2020 to help revitalize rural communities and build a better food system.