Senate Passes Farm Bill With No Food Stamp Changes; Battle Looms In the House

A week ago we reported that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a major piece of legislation called the “Farm Bill” that included significant changes to the federal food stamp program. Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill and, as we predicted last week, it does not contain the House food stamp changes. As a result it is likely that there will be a bitter fight in the weeks ahead as both sides have stated that they are unwilling to compromise.

Perhaps the key element of the Senate bill which is missing in the House bill is bipartisanship.  Republican Senators said they wanted to make sure they put together a piece of legislation that would be supported by farm state senators from both parties.  They were successful since the Senate’s version of the bill passed in an 86-to-11 vote.

Such overwhelming bipartisan support is unusual in a time of polarized politics in Washington, and it shows that there is a strong desire to give quick relief to farmers who are receiving low prices for their products along with higher interest and gasoline costs.

A bipartisan bill seems like a good idea but it will face major challenges when the conference committees meet later this summer to attempt reconcile gaping differences between the two bills.

The House version of the legislation, passed  in a 213-to-211 vote with no Democratic support. It was unpopular with many members of Congress because it imposes strict new work requirements on “able-bodied adults” who need food stamps.

Key senators from both parties have said publicly that they will not support any bill that contains work requirements. This is true even though work requirements are supported by the White House.

Since the bill will need bipartisan support to pass the Senate, the GOP Congressional leaders face a dilemma, and it is not clear how it will play out over the summer.

House Republicans say they will fight for their version of the legislation, but there is a fear that a new bill may not be passed before the law expires September 30 which would cause disruptions in agricultural programs.

Farmers are struggling now, and Trump’s tariffs have made things worse.  As a result, farm-state senators have said that the legislation absolutely must be passed this summer.

“There is a sense of urgency in the country. There are so many things right now that are up in the air for farmers and ranchers. It’s a very, very difficult time,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the top Agriculture Committee Democrat. “And this bill really is a bill that provides a safety net for farmers and a safety net for families.”

Under the controversial House food stamp plan, most adults would have to spend 20 hours per week either working or participating in a state-run training program to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, which provides an average payment of $125 per month to 42.3 million Americans.

Opponents of the work requirements have said it will be unfair, it will not work, and it will increase red tape for low-income Americans.

“The things that they have in there are mostly to hassle people that are on SNAP. That’s really what it’s about,” Rep. Collin C. Peterson (Minn.), top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said Thursday.  “Like I told people, the only thing that’s going to work that’s going to be developed out of this farm bill is paperwork.”

It seems that unless conservative members of the House GOP caucus agree to compromise, there will be a major legislative failure for the Republican Congress as we head into November’s elections. That would be bad news for Republican candidates and bad news for farmers, but it would be good news for the Blue Wave that is expected to result from the midterm elections.