MOUNT VERNON, Ill. — Though political differences continue
to stall passage of a farm bill, there is at least a modicum of hope that some
contentious issues soon may be resolved.
University of Illinois farm economist Jonathon Coppess
recently provided an update on progress of the stalled legislation that will
guide farm policy over the next five years. Despite some narrowing of
differences, a gap remains.
The root of the dispute lies in the differing ideas between
Democrats and Republicans on how to tackle federal deficits, Coppess told
farmers gathered at an ag economic summit here.
“The biggest problem we’ve had goes back to 2011 when the
entire focus of Congress has been budget issues — reducing spending and reducing
the debt and deficit,” he said. “The farm bill just happened to have its
five-year renewal authorization line up perfectly with that focus.
“That’s created a big political mountain to climb, when
you’re trying to cut spending, re-authorize programs and not anger everybody to
the point they don’t vote for it. Budget challenges are immense. Writing the
farm bill while trying to cut spending doesn’t exactly get you a lot of friends
Bills passed by the House and Senate are in conference
committee, where they must be folded into a single piece of legislation to be
offered for President Obama’s signature. The major sticking point remains the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly referred to as food stamps.
The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled
Senate are far apart on funding for SNAP over the next 10 years.
The House bill carves nearly $40 billion out of the program
over the next decade, while the Senate bill shaves about $4 billion. But the
dollar amount may not be the biggest disagreement.
“The best way to describe the two differences is actually
not dollars — it’s how you get there,” Coppess said.
SNAP reductions in the Senate bill are accomplished by
benefit cuts, while the House bill calls for an overhaul of the program
“In the Senate, the reductions in SNAP come solely from
reducing benefits that some people receive,” Coppess said. “Nobody is kicked out
of the program and nobody is prevented from getting into the program who would
be otherwise eligible. All you’re doing is reducing from some individuals the
amount they would receive.
“The House is completely different. They’re actually
reducing the number of people. It’s not just reducing benefits — it’s reducing
beneficiaries. That’s your big, political brouhaha, with millions of individuals
kicked out of the program. That creates a series of political problems.”
Coppess said that the issue may be settled soon, closer to
the Senate version.
“Whether that holds or not is a big question,” he said.
“This House has strong opposition to higher numbers. It could still be a rocky
Despite differences, the two sides are closer to producing a
bill than they have been all year. But the upcoming political season, which
includes an important midterm election, could play a big role.
“The first rule of politics is timing,” Coppess said. “Right
now the farm bill is sitting in conference. They’re making real progress for the
first time in a couple of years on getting a compromise with the hope that in
early January it goes on to the president.
“The longer this drags on for 2014 the more difficult this
becomes. Policy disagreements have been hurdles all along in the farm bill. The
(House and Senate) don’t agree on a whole lot right now.”