Farm Bill Negotiations Hit Roadblock as Disagreements Over Funding Priorities Persist

House Agriculture Chairman’s Proposed Cuts to Climate Change and Nutrition Programs Met with Resistance

The negotiations surrounding the farm bill have reached a stalemate as disagreements over funding priorities threaten to derail progress. House Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson’s proposal to make $50 billion in cuts, primarily targeting climate change and public nutrition programs, has been met with swift rejection. With time running out for action this year, the future of the farm bill hangs in the balance.

Calls for Extension of 2018 Farm Law Amidst Funding Challenges

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has suggested a one-year extension of the 2018 farm law, which expired on September 30. Boozman’s proposal stems from his unwavering support for higher reference prices, a contentious issue within the farm bill negotiations. However, implementing such an increase could quickly lead to tens of billions of dollars in additional costs.

Funding Constraints Pose Challenges for New Initiatives

With no new funding available, any new initiatives within the farm bill must be offset elsewhere. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has made it clear that she opposes cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the redirection of the $20 billion allocated to USDA conservation programs by the 2022 climate, healthcare, and tax law.

Thompson’s proposed list of cuts includes diverting the $20 billion to fund higher reference prices and imposing a ban on updates to the Thrifty Food Plan. Critics argue that Thompson’s actions contradict his repeated statements in support of a bipartisan farm bill, undermining the potential for consensus. Some fear that reaching a farm bill agreement by 2024 may be increasingly challenging.

Clash Over Funding Priorities Intensifies

Farm groups have placed a high priority on higher reference prices, which would make it easier for crop growers to trigger subsidy payments. Republicans, who uniformly opposed the climate bill, view the $20 billion allocated to USDA for climate mitigation as fair game for other activities. Additionally, the Biden administration’s update of the Thrifty Food Plan to reflect the cost of a healthy diet resulted in a 27 percent increase in SNAP benefits in 2021. Some Republican lawmakers feel blindsided by this increase.

A spokesperson for Thompson emphasized that every member of Congress has their own priorities for the farm bill, each with its own cost. They stressed the need for a bipartisan approach that reflects the needs of rural America. However, leaked information regarding the proposed cuts has been deemed unhelpful, as it hampers the negotiation process.

Democratic Discontent and Uncertain Future

Georgia Rep. David Scott shared the $50 billion list with Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee, leading to dissatisfaction among some Democrats. Politico reported that some were unhappy with Scott’s negotiating strategy. Thompson acknowledged that not all items on the list would be attainable, recognizing the challenges of reaching a consensus.

The 2018 farm law mandated the USDA to update the Thrifty Food Plan by 2022 and reassess it every five years. Advocates for SNAP argue that these updates are crucial in ensuring that the program keeps pace with the cost of a healthy diet. They warn against allowing SNAP benefits to fall out of step with the rising costs of nutritious food.

As negotiations surrounding the farm bill continue, disagreements over funding priorities have become a significant hurdle. House Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson’s proposed cuts to climate change and public nutrition programs have been met with resistance, highlighting the challenges of reaching a consensus. With time running out, the future of the farm bill remains uncertain. As stakeholders grapple with competing interests, finding common ground and ensuring the needs of rural America are met will be essential in moving forward.