It is not on the House of Representatives calendar for this week, but within the next 12 legislative days before the August recess, GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, "Members should be prepared to act on a revised Farm Bill.” If you remember, the Senate has approved a new five year program for agriculture, and the June 20th House effort to do the same failed to get a majority supporting its own Ag Committee’s proposal.
The key word is “revised,” and everyone following the progress of the Farm Bill proposals and debate for the past two years knows the word refers to separation of food and nutrition programs out of the Farm Bill.
Why is that a problem, since farm policy addresses rural America and food and nutrition policy is a metropolitan priority? Why is that a problem, since producing food and consuming food have a complex and lengthy economic path separating each other? Why is that a problem, since food and nutrition programs make up 80 percent of USDA spending and the Agriculture Department could just focus on the $20 billion for conservation, rural development, commodity programs, and crop insurance?
It is expected that the “revised” Farm Bill proposal will only reflect agriculture programs since the Democrats voted against the first proposal because it did not spend enough on food and nutrition programs and the Republicans who voted against it said it spent too much. Without any middle ground in that debate, the GOP leadership is proposing a solution that allows the House to vote on a separate farm policy and a separate nutrition policy.
Driving the proposal is the conservative Heritage Foundation which wants the separation as well as conversion of the food and nutrition programs into a “work activation” program for recipients of food stamps. Democrats withdrew their support of the House Farm Bill proposal when an amendment was approved that required food stamp recipients to work.
President Hoover had opposed a government-funded food program saying “the hungry and unemployed will be cared for by our sense of voluntary organization and community service.” Although he was defeated in 1932, it was not until 1938 when President Roosevelt initiated the program, but ironically opposed giving out free money and food without requiring work.
In that period of the Great Depression, USDA programs were initiated and eventually absorbed food stamps, which allowed consumers to have surplus food that farmers could not sell. The combination kept the nation from starving and kept farmers producing food and away from city unemployment lines. Yes, today is different, but nutrition is still an issue, while the price of corn is above the 10-cent level of the 1930’s.