We've written about the Farm Bill a few times in the past couple of months. The bill, which was due for renewal nearly 8 months ago, has been engulfed in controversy and bitter partisan debate as the House and Senate have been unable to reach a compromise on its final draft. The bill funds five years worth of agricultural and nutrition programs, which collectively serve millions of Americans. The most recent stalemate was in late June, when the House version of the bill failed to pass because of last-minute amendments.
Much of the dead-end debate has revolved around the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Earlier versions of the bill included cuts to the food stamp program, generally proposed by Republicans and shot down by Democrats. But the GOP's most recent strategy—to completely remove SNAP from the House's iteration of the farm bill—was received with incredible hostility from House Democrats. Though no Democrats voted for the bill, it managed to pass in a vote of 216 to 208 after hours of bitter arguing and stalling from Democratic representatives.
This bill marks the first time that food stamps have been separated from the general agricultural programs of the farm bill since 1973. A coalition of over 500 conservation, rural development, agriculture, finance, and crop insurance companies and organizations signed on to a statement written by the National Farmer's Union deriding the House's version of the bill. Other important voices in the food movement, such as Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, have spoken out against the SNAP-free bill.
So why is this issue important to such a broad base of food and agriculture advocates? The major point being reiterated across the board is that a divided farm bill, as articulated in the National Farmers Union's statement, "Would effectively undermine the long-standing bipartisan coalition of rural and urban members that have traditionally supported passage of a unified bill." Many voices are speaking out against a farm bill that seems to support separate legislative processes for food stamp recipients and agricultural support recipients. Many Democratic politicians have also expressed fear that a separated bill would lead to more dramatic cuts in the food stamp program in the long run, given the cuts that Republican representatives proposed in earlier iterations of this debate.
All in all, the farm bill is a mess. Politicking and anger have interrupted the typically bipartisan and straightforward passage of this crucially important piece of legislation. Hopefully the next piece we write about the farm bill will announce its passage—and the significantly easier sleep of millions of Americans who depend on the bill for their daily meals.
About the Author: Leah Douglas is a freelance writer in San Francisco, and loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.