June 20, 2013 10:22:46 AM
WASHINGTON -- The House will vote Thursday on whether to cut federally-subsidized crop insurance that helps farmers when they lose crops or revenue.
The amendment by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., would limit government help for crop insurance paid to wealthy farmers and limit the subsidies the government gives crop insurance companies.
A vote on the amendment is one of several expected on the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill. Supporters of the bill are rushing to complete the legislation Thursday, though it isn't clear whether they have the votes for passage.
The House bill, which would cut around $4 billion a year in overall spending on farm and nutrition programs, expands crop insurance programs and creates a new kind of crop insurance that kicks in before farmers' paid policies.
Kind and other Democrats say the bill should cut more from farm subsidies like crop insurance and less from food stamps, which would take a $2 billion hit in the bill. The House rejected a Democratic amendment Wednesday that would have eliminated the cuts to the $80 billion-a-year domestic food aid program.
The chamber is also scheduled to vote on an amendment that would reduce food stamp benefits if Congress doesn't pass a farm bill. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said he offered the amendment to create more of a sense of urgency among Democrats.
"Right now they're on the take side and they're not part of the process," Conaway said. Conaway and other members of the House Agriculture Committee have been scrambling to find enough votes for the bill, which could falter without Democratic support in the Republican-controlled House.
For several decades farm bills have combined farm subsidies and food stamps to attract urban votes for the rural bill.
But that coalition is now shaky, as the food stamp program -- now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP -- has doubled in cost over the last five years and now feeds 1 in 7 Americans. Conservatives say more cuts in food stamps are needed while liberals oppose any reductions, contending that the House plan could take as many as 2 million needy recipients off the rolls.
Amendments adopted by voice vote Wednesday chipped away at SNAP. The House adopted an amendment to require drug tests for SNAP recipients, angering Democrats who said the tests would be demeaning to applicants. Lawmakers also adopted an amendment that would end a 2004 U.S.-Mexico agreement to educate Mexican-Americans about food stamps. More amendments to scale back the program are expected.
Also Wednesday, the House voted to delay sweeping food safety rules proposed by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.
The proposed rules would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, such as making sure workers' hands are washed and irrigation water is clean. The amendment was offered by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., who said the regulations would be burdensome to farmers in his district.
Farm support is another complicating factor in the legislation, as opposition to farm subsidies has been growing among Republicans. Conservatives have proposed amendments that would cut back dairy and sugar supports, which could turn lawmakers from certain regions of the country against the bill.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he has concerns about the legislation but wants to get the bill to House and Senate negotiators for a potential deal. He said he will vote for it, saying the change in policy is better than doing nothing.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says the bill is necessary to avoid farm crises and has some of the biggest reforms in decades. It would eliminate $5 billion a year in direct payments, subsidies that are paid to farmers whether they grow or not. The measure would also expand crop insurance and make it easier for rice and peanut farmers to collect subsidies.
The Senate passed its version of the farm bill last week, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in SNAP -- one-fifth of the House bill's food stamp cuts.