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House Ag Plows Through Farm Bill
By Chris Clayton
Thursday, May 23, 2024 5:29PM CDT

OMAHA (DTN) -- Members of the House Agriculture Committee drew their lines in the sand Thursday on a new farm bill as Republicans praised the legislation for boosting support for farmers while Democrats opposed the bill over cuts to food aid and the funding used to pay for an improved farmer safety net.

The 54-member committee kicked off the marathon process of marking up and voting on a farm bill with nearly five hours of opening statements for the $1.5 trillion "Farm, Food and National Security Act of 2024."

Republicans argued the bill is a bipartisan success with 40 provisions coming from Democrats and another 100 or so provisions that came through bipartisan marker bills. Democrats countered that the bill takes $30 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years while also using $53 billion by halting the authority of the Agriculture secretary to use the Commodity Credit Corporation.

The bill would bolster commodity programs for producers by an estimated $45 billion over 10 years. The bill would increase reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and also increase coverage levels and payments under the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program. The bill includes a chance for farmers to update and add base acres to their operations, but includes a cap of 30 million acres. Farmers who receive 75% or more of their income from farming would see their payment limits increased from $125,000 to $155,000.

Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., said the bill he crafted would provide "new and better tools and resources for our farmers and rural communities." Thompson also pushed back on "armchair critics" that have gotten louder in complaints about the legislation. Talking about previous cuts to farm programs going back to 2014, Thompson talked about shifting $30 billion from SNAP to other programs.

"I have no shame transitioning available resources to the nearly unanimous, bipartisan priorities shared by each of you and incorporated in this bill, including trade promotion, research, and various specialty crop programs," Thompson said.

Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., the ranking member of the committee, said the bill "makes the largest financial cut to SNAP in 30 years." Scott and other Democrats said the SNAP cuts took money away from low-income households -- as much as $15 a day in food aid. Scott said SNAP benefits are already underfunded.

"These facts alone are reason enough to vote against this terrible bill," Scott said.

Thompson later pointed out the actual reductions in SNAP do not occur in the five-year course of the farm bill but would come later. He pushed back on Democratic complaints. "That is just not true."

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., a former committee chairman, said the bill represents "the first step in a long journey." He credited Thompson for putting forward a good bill, and acknowledged the role of Democrats as the minority to "represent the conscience of the body." Lucas noted the "real struggle" is not getting the bill out of committee, but passing the bill on the House floor.

Another committee veteran, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., also offered a "note of optimism" notwithstanding differences between the parties. "We know without bipartisan support we won't have a farm bill. It's that simple."

Among the first amendments debated came from Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who also serves as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Bishop moved to drop the provision that would end the Agriculture secretary's control of the Commodity Credit Corporation. (CCC). Republicans say blocking USDA's authority would allow the committee to use more than $50 billion to boost commodity and crop insurance programs. Bishop called the move to cut off the secretary's funding, "a draconian approach."

Bishop added, "Let's call it what it is. It's a budget gimmick and we know that restricting the Secretary's authority won't get us anywhere near enough money to pay for the program changes in commodities or crop insurance."

Passing the amendment would mean finding $50 billion in programs to take out of the chairman's bill. Thompson said the Biden and Trump administrations have used the CCC for an average of $10.7 billion a year, which allows the justification to spend $50 billion over 10 years.

Bishop pointed out that both Republicans and Democrats in the Appropriations Committee continue looking at CCC dollars to help deal with droughts or other challenges in agriculture that continue to come up.

Rep. Cheri Pingree, D-Maine, said the CCC authority has helped with trade aid, the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, climate-smart agriculture projects and other crises such as avian influenza.

"Taking away this authority from one agriculture secretary because you don't like this one program is misguided," Pingree said, adding there are already risks such as avian influenza that may need USDA funding. "We cannot possibly take this authority away from the Secretary."

Thompson argued the provision returns to Congress the authority to fund programs. He also noted that Congress had blocked Vilsack from using the fund under the Obama administration and that did not create any crisis in funding.

"This restriction does not restrict the secretary from generating ideas that help rural America," Thompson said. He added. "We cannot continue to abdicate our responsibility over the power of the purse and let unelected bureaucrats of either party spend billions of taxpayer dollars with zero accountability."

In one of the first major amendments, Bishop's amendment failed on a 25-29 vote as lawmakers in the committee each voted along party lines.

The bill markup continued later into the afternoon with amendments looking at base acres.

The committee is expected to vote on advancing the bill late Thursday night, or early Friday.

Also see, "House Plan Puts More 'Farm in the Farm Bill' But Widens Payment Disparities," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

And, "House Plan Boosts Reference Prices and Commodity Support," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on social platform X @ChrisClaytonDTN

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