Specialty crop provisions that SAF members lobbied for during Congressional Action Days are in a precarious position after the U.S. House of Representatives defeated the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947). In a stunning turnaround, only 24 Democrats voted for the measure last week; 62 Republicans voted against it.
“The defeat of the House bill is shocking,” says Lin Schmale, SAF’s senior director of government relations. “It is, sadly, a demonstration of partisan gridlock, which is in no one’s best interest. We had a strong, bipartisan bill for specialty crops and indeed for all of agriculture.”
The current Farm Bill expires Sept. 30.
A controversial centerpiece of the House bill would have cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — or food stamp program — by $20.5 billion, far more than the Senate-passed bill. Democratic leadership said that even with those cuts, they had the votes for the bill, but that the adoption of a last-minute Republican amendment to mandate work requirements for SNAP recipients was the “last straw.”
Even very conservative Rep. Steve King (R-4-Iowa) lamented the bill’s failure, suggesting that some of his Republican colleagues “seem to think that if we hold out, we will actually get larger cuts in food stamps.”
The vote was widely seen as a defeat for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who voted for the bill.
“It’s almost unheard of for the Speaker to bring a bill to the floor, vote for it and then lose,” says Schmale, adding that “pleas for unity among Republicans fell on deaf ears, as ultra-conservative House members supported a philosophy rather than their party’s leadership.”
The new Farm Bill was developed with a strong conservative philosophy in mind and included cuts to food stamps, row-crop subsidies and other spending seen as wasteful by Republican members. The Senate version of the bill contains more than $24 billion in 10-year savings; the House version, $39.7 billion. Those savings are now foregone. Capitol Hill insiders expect to see the current law extended.
How The Farm Bill Affects Floriculture
Extending the existing law rather than passing a new bill is a problem for the floral industry because it puts several specialty crop programs at risk, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the National Clean Plant Network, Schmale says. Both of those efforts expired at the end of 2012. Without the new funding, they cannot continue.
Specialty crops, including floriculture and nursery, fruit and vegetable crops, grapes, potatoes and many others, make up more than half of U.S. cash crop value. Floral and nursery crops account for more than a third of the total specialty crop value.
Read extended coverage of the Farm Bill vote, and potential effects on specific floriculture programs, in last week’s Washington Week in Review.
For more information contact Schmale at (800) 336-4743 or [email protected]