Congress is returning to work after the July 4th weekend. A high priority for the House is hammering out a new farm bill before the August recess. In a surprise move in June, the House rejected a bill similar to a version already passed by the Senate. There’s now talk of splitting the up the House bill in order to break the impasse.
For decades, the nation’s farm bill has brought together members of Congress from urban districts who tend to support policies like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, with rural lawmakers who support farm policies like crop insurance.
"There’s a level of co-dependency on each policy,” says Rep. Steve King of Iowa (R-Iowa), who voted for the farm bill. “It requires the people from the cities, and primarily the inner cities, to support some kind of ag policy if they’re going to get their nutrition piece, and vice versa.”
But lately, that relationship seems to have hit a rough patch. The House bill cut more than $20 billion from nutrition programs. That was too much for many Democrats, but not enough for some Republicans. So now conservative lawmakers want to split up the two major parts of the farm bill.
But, advocates for both issues are saying that’s not going to work. Anti-poverty groups fear deeper cuts to food assistance programs if they’re removed from the farm bill. And agriculture groups are also worried.
“It’s been a marriage that’s worked quite well and we don’t want to see it split,” says Mary Kay Thatcher with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
With the current farm bill expiring at the end of September, House negotiators have just a few weeks to work out their differences.