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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Defying a veto threat from President Bush over assistance for crop producers, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $284 billion, five-year Farm Bill, which retains a safety net for farmers when prices fall; authorizes a permanent disaster program; increases funding for conservation, nutrition, and renewable energy, and also requires country of origin labeling for meats, fruits, and vegetables.
By a vote of 231-191, the bill received unanimous bipartisan support from the House Agriculture Committee July 20. While the bill had broad support in the committee, much of Friday’s contentious debate focused an eleventh-hour tax measure introduced to fund nutrition programs.
The House bill, which reauthorizes all U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, allocates about two-thirds of its budget on nutrition assistance programs, while about 12 percent, or $35 billion, goes to farm subsidies, the most controversial part of the bill.
In speech to the National Press Club just before the House vote, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said he was looking toward the Senate to salvage what he called a “fiscally responsible” Farm Bill. He said the bill the House was about to approve would jeopardize $78 billion in U.S. agriculture exports and relies for its funding on a tax provision that he said has “polarized the entire debate. We urge the Senate to take a different course,” Johanns said.
The House passage now sends the Farm Bill debate onward to the Senate, which is expected to begin work on its version of the measure in September. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. The Bush administration says the House bill is too costly and fails to significantly cut subsidies, which has become a hot button in global trade negotiations.
But House democrats and other agricultural proponents see it otherwise. "This farm bill is about much more than farms. It is about the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and increasingly the fuel we will use," said Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Peterson said even with White House opposition, the bill stands a good chance of becoming law because of its popularity in politically important Southern and Midwestern states.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) praised the House-passed farm bill, which it said establishes a new benchmark for reform while retaining a viable economic safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers.
“The farm bill passed by the House strikes a reasonable balance in allocating benefits among our nation’s farming and ranching families who grow a safe and secure supply of food and fiber for America and the world,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman, noting that the House bill benefits all sectors of agriculture, including new support for fruit and vegetable producers.
For the first time in recent history, no additional funding is provided for commodity programs, said Stallman. At the same time, he said, the bill meets the needs of more of America’s farmers by providing $1.6 billion in new funding for specialty crop research, conservation, pest and disease programs, and nutrition.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) also praised the House passed Farm Bill, which it said includes two provisions of importance to the restaurant industry, foremost to which is changes to the produce marketing agreement that strengthens the produce industry's commitments to food safety.
Additionally, NRA praised the bill’s provision that includes an increased focus on cellulosic ethanol production and research, “which is more energy efficient to produce and does not come from food products as some alternative fuels do.”