Not a SNAP: Farm bill path won't be easy
I've been an ag reporter under eight multi-year federal farm bills and have covered aspects of seven of them. The first one was the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977, which came to being at the end of the prosperous 1970s and just before the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981. (See how they switched the order of the words?)
This led to the Food Security Act of 1985; the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990; the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996. Things changed up in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, and finally — simply — the Agriculture Act of 2014, which expires in 2018.
Today, we're on the cusp of another, even as confusion grows between Congressional and White House influence. While rural areas heavily supported Donald Trump for president, the new administration's 2018 fiscal year budget goals indicate things won't go smoothly — a political skirmish indicating the direction of the farm bill debate.
The budget reconciliation resolution assumes savings in the Child Nutrition Act and from the School Meal Community Eligibility Provision — programs that are not as apparent as farm program provisions to farmers, but which can have enormous impact on the political equation. The SNAP program could see cuts of $150 billion over the 10 years used in the budget projections. If the House gets 218 votes to pass it, the Senate would have to agree.
There are numerous pitfalls, but one is the inclination of the Republicans to take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP, "commonly referred to as food stamps) away from the general bill. The common wisdom for decades is that to separate these purposes will remove any incentive for rural and urban congress members to work together on the bill.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in a press release from the House Democrats said the budget resolution for fiscal year 2018 makes it "much more difficult, if not near impossible, to pass a new farm bill."
Not known for subtlety, Peterson added, "Singling out the SNAP program will kill the farm bill. This is the kind of political ideology that led to the failure of the 2014 Farm Bill on the House floor."
This isn't it
"This is more of a political exercise than a serious debate but it could have a very real impact on the fate of the farm bill," Peterson added. "There are ways for us to work together but this isn't it."
There are signs that the Trump administration won't get its way on agriculture cuts. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will play a key role in determining where all of this shakes out. Hoeven recently said he would not support the more startling budget impacts, including closing 17 U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratories, including three in Agweek country (Morris, Minn., Brookings, S.D., and Miles City, Mont.)
The House and Senate agriculture committees are dominated by Republicans, and many of them from the Midwest. It is important for farmers to know that two-thirds of the farm bill spending is for SNAP.
In the last farm bill debate, the Senate passed a farm bill, followed by the House agriculture committee, but then the House vetoed it over debates about SNAP. It expired twice in 2012 and once in 2013, and finally passed as two separate bills — an agriculture and nutrition piece — and the two were put back together on Feb. 7, 2014.
The farm bill is bound to be a nail-biter, and glacial in its movement. The question is whether the Trump administration will slow or speed policy that farmers in Agweek country rely on every day. It won't be a snap, if it happens at all.