Farm Bill stalls as Panetta cries foul

DEMOCRAT SAYS NO TO LAST-MINUTE GOP CHANGES

For Rep. Jimmy Panetta, whose 20th District includes some of the nation’s biggest farm producers, voting against the most recent Farm Bill was difficult but necessary.

“The failure of the Farm Bill on the House floor last week was due to a flawed process and unnecessary partisanship,” said the 20th District Democrat. He placed the blame squarely on the Republican leadership of the House Agriculture Committee, of which he is a member.

In addition to facing unified Democratic opposition, the Republican majority was unable to shore up support from its conservative members, and the bill presented by the Agriculture Committee failed May 18 on 198-213 vote.

The Farm Bill—officially called the Agriculture and Nutrition Act— comes up for a vote only once every four years, and includes both food stamps and important farm price supports. The legislation expires Sept .1.

In an interview this week, Panetta told the Free Lance he remains hopeful a new Farn Bill is approved. He added, “I don’t see much happening in the next week or two.”

He said that for him, the necessary first step is for Democrats and Republicans to meet in committee to iron out differences.

A last-minute addition by Republicans—without a hearing or opportunity for input from the minority party members— to expand work requirements for food stamp recipients guaranteed united Democratic opposition.

“Although historically bipartisan, the Agriculture Committee became partisan when the majority decided to put forward and hastily pass an underfunded Farm Bill, and insist on unproven and untested changes to the bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” Panetta said.

He said the GOP bill also lacked adequate funds for critical programs for specialty crops, organics and beginning famers.

“I voted against the bill because I believe that it was based on politics rather than the procedure of holding hearings to gather supportive evidence in a bipartisan manner, which is normally found in the Agriculture Committee and necessary for such a major piece of legislation like the Farm Bill,” said Panetta.

“Our farmers and those facing hunger in our communities deserve better and depend on Congress to do better together,” he said. “There are 74,000 people in my district that depend on the SNAP program.”

“I am ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to produce a Farm Bill that supports our farmers, grows our agriculture industry, and tackles hunger across our country.”

Committee chair Mike Conaway of Texas, said, “Though a disappointing vote, the House will continue its efforts to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk on time.”

Ranking committee Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota said Democratic members of the committee consider the nutrition title of the GOP bill to be “an affront.”

The Republican bill would impose work requirements on food stamp beneficiaries up to age 59, except for children, the disabled and people caring for young children. It will also make qualifying for food stamps harder by restricting categorical eligibility programs under which people qualify for food stamps by participating in other government assistance programs.

Peterson said he agrees that “people should work,” but disagrees with a provision that would take “savings” from fewer people participating and use it for a work training program because it would amount to spending “a huge amount of money on this bureaucracy.”

Peterson said spending under the 2014 farm bill is now $130 billion less than projected, and said he believes agriculture “deserves” some of that money back to improve the farm program.

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