House Ag Committee Passes Farm Bill Draft Protecting Key Republican Priorities

After hours of contentious debate over nutrition, conservation, the definition of “cuts” and the meaning of “bipartisanship,” the Republican-led committee passed a bill that crossed several of Democrats’ “red lines”

Bryce Oates May 26, 2024

This story first appeared in The Cocklebur

On May 23, the Republican-led House Agriculture Committee met to officially markup Chair Glenn Thompson’s (R-Pa.-15) nearly 1,000-page draft farm bill titled the “Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024(H.R.8467). The draft passed early Friday morning with few changes, as Republicans were able to hold their caucus together to fend off numerous amendments offered by Democrats. The vote, 33-21, largely fell along party lines, with four Democrats joining Republican ranks to move the bill to the House floor. A conference report detailing the changes made during the Agriculture Committee’s business meeting is expected soon.

Contentious debate focused on the following Democratic amendments, which all failed on party line votes:

  • Commodity Credit Corporation Reform. Republicans successfully voted down an amendment by committee Democrats to keep the Secretary of Agriculture’s current discretionary spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act. (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. It is one of Chair Thompson’s key proposed budget cuts required to pay for increased farm subsidy spending. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculates it would result in a net $8 billion in deficit reduction, but House Agriculture Committee leaders claim instead that it would save $53 billion.
  • Climate Sideboards on Conservation Programs. Democrats were unable to convince Republicans to maintain current “climate smart” sideboards on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) increased conservation budgets for certain agricultural practices that reduce climate pollution. The House Republican draft removes the climate smart requirement and moves unspent IRA funding into the broader farm bill conservation title.
  • Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House committee draft maintained its approximately $27 billion cut to SNAP, the other major Thompson budget cut proposal. Democrats fought hard to retain current SNAP rules and budgets, but they were unable to convince any Republicans to join them. Many Republicans attempted to deny that the proposed bill included SNAP cuts, even though the CBO stands by their $27 billion estimate for the proposed Republican cuts.
  • Child Labor in Meatpacking Plants. Democrats proposed an amendment that would require meatpacking plants under contract with USDA to follow child labor laws. The tense debate ended with a Thompson commitment to call a hearing on the issue with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Labor in attendance.

Many other amendment battles are brewing in the Senate Agriculture Committee and on the House floor. Restrictions on hemp products, for example, look to be a major battleground. The Democrat-led Senate is likely to propose strengthening the Packers and Stockyards Act and could face an amendment on checkoff reform. It is possible for Democrats to offer an amendment that protects state and local government authority to enact environmental standards more strict than federal rules.

Thompson does not expect the committee draft to move to the House floor until September, according to reporting from The Hagstrom Report. The current farm bill will expire on September 30. In the meantime, Senate Democrats are expected to release and markup their draft farm bill. Both chambers must ultimately come to an agreement between the two bills, a process that will likely prove difficult in an election year given the deep impasse between both sides.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.-15). Thompson does not expect the draft farm bill text to move to the House floor until September, not long before the current farm bill expires on September 30. (House Committee on Agriculture)

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) responded to the House markup in a statement: “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.”

Many farm bill negotiators worked hard to present themselves as “bipartisan,” though there was little evidence of bipartisanship or compromise during the amendment process.

“I encourage my colleagues to work together to make this bill the best it can be. I have heard a lot today about the ‘bipartisan’ efforts to do that” said Rep. Johanna Hayes (D-Conn.-05) during the meeting. “I cannot tell you personally I’ve seen that, but I am open to that happening.”

The markup began under cordial terms, but things got contentious after the first few speakers. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.-08) was the first to break through the bipartisan tone, describing “misinformation coming from activists outside—and inside” that is hampering the farm bill re-negotiation process.

Rep. Jim McGovern from Massachusetts then delivered one of the Democrats’ most pointed critiques of the Republican draft:

“This bill is a disaster. It’s a disaster for America’s farmers. It’s a disaster for America’s families. It’s a disaster for America’s environment. And it’s a disaster for America’s workers.

“You know who this bill is a big win for? It’s a win for CEOs in C-suites that have never worked in a field for a day in their lives. It’s a win for people with luxury beachfront properties and fancy high-rise apartments who make their money screwing over our family farmers.

“That’s who benefits most from this bill. The rich. And the powerful. And it’s a damn shame.”

McGovern went further, criticizing Republican farm policy over the last 50 years:

“Let’s talk about just how bad this bill is. We’ve been losing family farms in this country since the Nixon Administration told farmers ‘get big or get out.’ If this Farm Bill were to become law, things would get a hell of a lot worse.

Republicans want to starve out family farms. They’re funneling resources to those at the top while taking support away for independent farmers.”

Democrats were able to hold their caucus together for 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.

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.

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