Reauthorization of the Agricultural Act of 2014 known as the “Farm Bill” shuttered to a halt this month when the House voted down the bill with a vote of 198 to 213. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) requested a motion to reconsider; and another vote is expected by June 22.
Historically, the Farm Bill has benefited from bipartisan support. It includes 12 titles that encompass programs ranging from commodity price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs. In the past few years, the major domestic food program included in the Farm Bill — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — has caused ideological divides between political parties. SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, currently provides nutritional assistance to around 45.5 million individuals and has been part of the Farm Bill since 1973. The program traditionally helped guarantee votes on the Farm Bill due to its broad reach to constituencies, until recently when SNAP reform became a priority for Republicans with the goals to both reduce federal outlays and increase work requirements for beneficiaries.
During the 2013-2014 Farm Bill reauthorization, the House had to regroup after a failed House vote which stemmed from proposed dramatic cuts to the program. Eventually, both parties compromised to cut SNAP benefits by one percent over ten years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the results of cuts in current law have led to lower-than-expected enrollment in SNAP and total outlays are projected to be $26 billion less for the five-year authorization period. While this is good news overall, it doesn’t satisfy budget hawks.
This year, Democrats balked over the bill’s added work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries; however, this was not the only challenge to House Leadership as the bill came to the Floor. House Freedom Caucus members rejected the bill outright which led to the failed vote. The Freedom Caucus argued that the bill did not go far enough to tighten work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries and they demanded legislative action on an immigration bill they argue must be enacted. When their demands were not met, they voted down the Farm Bill, surprising House Leadership who are now scrambling to work out deals on both the Farm Bill and on immigration in June.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee are joining heads and drafting a bipartisan Farm Bill that is expected to be introduced as early as June 6. Chairman Roberts, cognizant that the bill needs 60 votes to avoid a filibuster, has said the bill will not make any dramatic changes to SNAP.
The recent cycles of Farm Bill reauthorization call into question if the Farm Bill will continue its bipartisan legacy in the coming years.