Farm Bill 2013: A Preemptive Bailout For Agribusiness

While food stamps and agriculture have both traditionally been lumped together into farm bills, with food stamps making up to 80% of the bill, the latest proposal drafted by House Republicans would greatly expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program, but would simultaneously drop the food stamps program for impoverished Americans. Despite the massive backlash from Democrats and even the White House, Republicans seem convinced that by taking out the re-authorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and theoretically drafting a food stamps bill in the near future, they can bail out the agriculture business that they've fought so hard to fund in the past months.

The 608-page bill would cut spending by $14 billion over 10 years, primarily by ending the "direct payment" subsidy which accounts for $5 billion a year, and would increase the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program by 10%, or $9 billion over 10 years. While many of these aspects of the bill would help agriculture in the U.S., as the White House outlined earlier today, the bill "does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms and does not invest in renewable energy, an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country."

While House leaders initially split food stamps and agriculture into separate bills to entice conservatives, but even Republicans have become skeptical of this strategy, particularly since the latest farm bill "does nothing to make 'meaningful reforms' to America's farm policy," said the conservative Heritage Foundation. The concept of having a separate bill for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program isn't a bad proposition, but House Republicans so far have made no efforts to draft a bill for food stamps, assistance and given conservatives' sizable concerns with the program, it's very possible that they may attempt to cut more than Democrats would like, especially since liberals in the recent past have opposed any cuts whatsoever. These disagreements could lead to a delay in the separate bill and would make it difficult for the bill to pass in the first place.

Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise to Republicans that even within their own party, doubt is growing about the passing of this latest farm bill. Then again, the attitude with which the House Republicans have been drafting these bills is more rushed than meticulous, as the current federal farm and food aid policy is set to expire on September 30. Failure to pass a new bill in that time frame would bring back a 1949 law governing the farming industry that could raise prices steeply on products such as milk.

House Republicans can't expect to solely bail out agribusiness without addressing the nutrition programs formally and without providing the necessary agriculture reforms that the industry needs. Thus, even if this farm bill does pass, it's extremely likely that either the Democratic-led senate or the White House will veto it immediately.