Farm bill supports fray amid tight money

Published 10:14 am Monday, July 8, 2013

By Brett Neely
Minnesota Public Radio

WASHINGTON — For decades, Congress rolled food stamps and farm subsidies together into one giant bill. The tactic generated lots of rural and urban votes from politicians in both parties. Everyone got something out of the deal.

That longtime marriage, though, is in trouble. With federal money tight, old alliances are starting to fray.

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The House last month unexpectedly rejected a bipartisan farm bill. As Congress returns from the July Fourth holiday, Republican lawmakers are talking about splitting agriculture and food stamps into separate legislation. That could lead to both sides getting less than they want.

In a sign that the farm lobby recognizes the trouble it’s in, major farm groups wrote to House Speaker John Boehner last week asking him to keep the farm bill together in its present form and not hold a separate vote on food stamps. During the debate on the failed farm bill, the House approved amendments limiting payouts to farmers and came close to cutting back generous crop insurance subsidies.

“The old alliance of nutrition and ag, it just doesn’t have the power it used to,” said Josh Sewell, a policy analyst with the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which opposed the farm bill.

“In the past, all those groups used to be able to get together and there was enough money to shovel around to each group so they could get what they wanted,” he said. “Now we’re at a point where they want different things and we’re in a tight budgetary environment so we can’t frankly just buy each commodity off.”

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