By Kansas Agland

The farm bill passed the House Wednesday. All four Kansas representatives, however, voted no on the legislation.

The House passed the legislation, 251 to 166, moving it to the Senate. The passage comes after more than two years of partisan squabbles over food and farm policy.

It's an almost $100 billion-a-year, compromise farm bill containing a small cut in food stamps and preserving most crop subsidies.

The Senate is expected to vote early next week, at the latest.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp said last week at his town hall meeting at Lyons that he "probably would be against it," noting the the cuts to the food stamp program wasn't big enough.

Huelskamp also told The News last week that while some debate has occurred on the farm side of the farm bill, there hasn't bee sufficient discussion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which makes up 80 percent of the bill.

Republican representatives Kevin Yoder, Lynn Jenkins and Mike Pompeo also voted no - among the 63 total Republicans who opposed the legislation, one more than when the farm bill was voted on in June.

Huelskamp said in a statement Wednesday that the bill "continues to allow urban food stamp policy to drive agriculture policy. It does nothing to provide regulatory relief our farmers, ranchers and small businesses so desperately need.

"From the beginning of this process, I have argued that we need to get the focus of the farm bill back to the farm," Huelskamp said, adding "The program is in despereate need of reform and yet this bill makes only nominal changes. Instead of status quo in this the fastest growing welfare program in the entire government, we should have taken the opportunity to provide meaningful work reform requirements, especially for able bodied adults, as we passed in the U.S. House." 

But 89 Democrats supported it, bolstered by the lower cut in food stamps and money for fruit, vegetable and organic programs.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said shortly after the vote that President Barack Obama would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The measure had backing from the Republican leadership team, even though it makes smaller cuts to food stamps than they would have liked. After wavering for several years, the GOP leaders were seeking to put the long-stalled bill behind them and build on the success of a bipartisan budget passed earlier this month. Leaders in both parties also were hoping to bolster rural candidates in this year's midterm elections.

House Speaker John Boehner did not cast a vote on the bill, a commonplace practice for a speaker, but he issued a statement Monday saying it was "worthy of the House's support."

The bill ultimately would cut about $800 million a year from the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, or around 1 percent. The House had sought a 5 percent cut.

The legislation also would continue to heavily subsidize major crops for the nation's farmers while eliminating some subsidies and shifting them toward more politically defensible insurance programs.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who has been working on the bill since 2011, called the compromise a "miracle" after years of setbacks. An early version of the legislation was defeated on the House floor last June after conservatives said the food stamp cuts were too modest and liberal Democrats said they were too steep.

The House later passed a bill with a higher, $4 billion cut, arguing at the time that the program had spiraled out of control after costs doubled in the last five years. But cuts that high were ultimately not possible after the Senate balked and the White House threatened a veto. The Senate had sought a cut of $400 million annually.

The final savings in the cost of the food stamp program would be generated by cracking down on some states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don't need. That heating assistance, sometimes as low as $1 per person, triggers higher benefits, and some critics see that practice as circumventing the law. The bill that was passed Wednesday would require states to give individual recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could be authorized.

Some Democrats said the food stamp cut still is too high.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, one of the states that has boosted benefits through heating assistance, said the cut will be harmful on top of automatic food stamp cuts that already went into place in November.

"I don't know where they are going to make that up," McGovern said.

To pass the bill, Lucas and his Senate counterpart, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, found ways to entice many potential naysayers. They spent more than two years crafting the bill to appeal to members from all regions of the country, including a boost in money for crop insurance popular in the Midwest; higher rice and peanut subsidies for Southern farmers; and renewal of federal land payments for Western states. The food stamp cut was low enough that 89 Democrats voted for the bill.

They also backed away from repealing a catfish program - a move that would have angered Mississippi lawmakers - and dropped language that would have thwarted a California law requiring all eggs sold in the state to come from hens living in larger cages. Striking out that provision was a priority for California lawmakers who did not want to see the state law changed.

For those seeking reform of farm programs, the legislation would eliminate a $4.5 billion-a-year farm subsidy called direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. But the bill nonetheless would continue to heavily subsidize major crops - corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton - while shifting many of those subsidies toward more politically defensible insurance programs. That means farmers would have to incur losses before they could get a payout.

The bill would save around $1.65 billion annually overall, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The amount was less than the $2.3 billion annual savings the agriculture committees originally projected for the bill.

An aide to Lucas said the difference was due to how the CBO calculated budget savings from recent automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration.

 

What they said

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas praised the bill.

"I am pleased a majority of my House colleagues joined me in supporting a five-year, comprehensive farm bill.  I appreciate the efforts of everyone who helped get us here.  This is legislation we can all be proud of because it fulfills the expectations the American people have of us.  They expect us to work together to find ways to reduce the cost of the federal government.  The Agricultural Act contributes major savings to deficit reduction, significant reforms to policy, and yet still provides a safety net not only for the production of American food and fiber, but also to ensure our fellow citizens have enough food to eat. I am hopeful this legislation will enjoy the same success when the Senate considers it, and I encourage the president to sign it quickly into law," said Lucas.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson also applauded the passage.

"On behalf of the family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, rural residents and America's consumers, I commend the House on passing the farm bill. The conference report is a true compromise and I am pleased to have certainty for all Americans.

 "The farm bill has always been a bipartisan effort, and for that I am thankful. I urge the Senate to take up the conference report right away so the 2014 Farm Bill can be signed into law by the president and the policies can be put into action." The Associated Press contributed to this story.