The Senate farm bill is likely to pass today. And while I disagree with the cuts to the food stamp program dressed up as fraud prevention, the bill does end the practice of paying farmers not to produce, which in practice was a subsidy to southern farmers who relied on the subsidies (insert your snarky quote about how Southern Republicans “hate government handouts to the undeserving” here). The subsidy payments that remain, particularly on crop insurance payments, will be limited in significant ways – adjusted gross income limits for eligibility used to be $1.5 million, and will now get cut to $750,000. Payments will be capped at $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples. And “farm managers” who make money off a farm they don’t really have involvement in (think Blanche Lincoln, Michele Bachmann, etc.) will be ineligible for payments.
These are relatively small changes, and advocates still believe that agribusiness will make out far too well on this bill, still taking in the majority of the subsidy payments. But it’s a small step forward. Which is why it will never pass.
The House Agriculture Committee is abruptly pulling back from its planned farm bill markup next week, amid signs that Republican leaders want a pause to consider how to proceed given the progress made in the Senate on its five-year bill.
Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told POLITICO that he will move “hell or high water” when lawmakers return after the July 4th recess. But he confirmed the change in plans, which came after discussions with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Cantor’s involvement is an ominous sign for farm bill advocates, but his aides insisted that the Virginia Republican was not saying “no” to any House farm bill this summer. Instead, they said the majority leader wanted to “push the pause button” and allow time for some assessment of the political situation.
The political situation is that a farm bill might pass, and the GOP can’t have that, at least not without holding the system hostage for some set of goodies.
So the excitement over a bipartisan farm bill in the Senate should be viewed in the same way as the excitement over a bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, or a bipartisan surface transportation bill, or a bipartisan Chinese currency reform bill. None of these have come close to passing into law.