Harkin, Braley both say splitting farm policy is bad move

Plan would separate farm policy from food stamps

A plan in the U.S. House to separate farm policy from food stamps to get a farm bill passed may be well-grounded, but it won’t fly, Sen. Chuck Grassley predicted Wednesday.

The House reportedly will take up a version of the five-year farm bill that separates agricultural provisions from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – food stamps.

The House defeated the farm bill 195-234 June 20 when a coalition of Republicans who wanted deeper cuts in the food nutrition programs and Democrats who opposed those cuts voted against it. That bill would have cut food stamps by about $20 billion over 10 years. The Senate cut food nutrition by $4 billion.

Overall, about 80 percent of the farm bill is for food nutrition programs and 20 percent is for farm programs.

Philosophically, Grassley supports splitting the bill in two, but said it’s not practical.

“It might fly in the House, but I don’t think it’s going to fly in the Senate,” Grassley told reporters July 10.

Iowa 1st District Rep. Bruce Braley isn’t sure it will fly in the House.

The Waterloo Democrat called it the “latest example of a piecemeal approach that is an example of what’s wrong with Congress.”

The farm bill traditionally has not been a partisan issue. The biggest disputes have been between Midwest and southern commodity groups over crop support programs.

Farm policy and food stamps have been paired for a variety of reasons, including political considerations. Inclusion of nutrition programs gives member of Congress representing urban constituencies a reason to support the farm programs and vice versa.

“We are sent to Congress to address tough issues, not to ignore them,” Braley said. “Ignoring one of the biggest components of this bill jeopardize the type of broad-based geographic support that historically has been necessary to get a farm bill passed.”

Although Braley said the No. 1 priority is to get a farm bill passed, he called it irresponsible for House Speaker John Boehner to split the bill to get it passed.

“This farm bill fiasco has continued for the past two years and is another example of what frustrate voters with Congress,” he said.

All four Iowa House members– two Democrats and two Republicans -- voted for the farm bill. Republican Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham also seem skeptical of splitting the farm bill to save it.

Latham, an ally of Boehner, speculated that to get the bill passed the speaker should bring it up without an amendment to allow states to deny food stamps to people who did not meet work and training requirements.

Grassley agrees with that approach. He also thinks it’s too early to know how Boehner will proceed. Before bringing the bill – or bills – to the floor, House leaders will take a vote count to find out if they have the necessary votes.

“I doubt they are going to find they have the votes to do it,” Grassley predicted.

He’d like to see Boehner take up the farm bill that came out of committee without the most controversial amendments. One in particular, a 109-page amendment dropped on members with just five minutes of debate, caused several House Democrats to vote against the bill, he said.

“That process might cause a lot of people to lose confidence in the system,” he said. “Maybe the process, as well as the subject, had as much to do with its defeat.”

For his part, Grassley would like to see the farm bill split because he believes in its current form it gives non-farmers the wrong impression of agricultural support programs.

“You read about a bloated farm bill … with a 10-year figure of $900 and some billion,” he said. “City people who don’t understand legislation, who don’t understand farming, think $900 billion is going into the pockets of farmers.

However, the current high farm commodity prices mean that farmers are receiving less than 5 percent of the money in the farm bill “and no more than 20 percent is going toward the Agriculture Department and ag programs.”

By separating the farm provisions from food stamps “it makes it look like (farmers) don’t have their fingers in the taxpayers' pockets,” Grassley said.

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