Bruised from the defeat of a massive farm bill last month, Republicans are giving the legislation another chance by bringing a pared-down version to the House floor.
GOP leaders were still counting how many votes they could muster for the new measure, which drops the politically sensitive food stamp portion of the bill, when they released the legislation late Wednesday. The White House swiftly issued a veto threat, and House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move. A vote is expected Thursday.
The dropped section would have made a 3 percent cut to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. Many Republicans say that isn't enough since the program's cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts.
The White House said food stamps should not be left out of the bill. The Obama administration had also threatened to veto the original bill, saying it did not include enough reductions to farm subsidies and the food stamp cuts were too severe.
Republicans are proposing a measure containing only farm programs, with a food stamp bill to come at a later date. Farm groups, anti-hunger groups and conservative groups have all opposed the idea, for different reasons.
I have often stated (in private of course) that food stamps and farm provisions of the farm bill should be separate pieces of legislation. The food stamp program is an equity program designed to redistribute income from those who have to those who don't. It has little to do with efficiency of markets. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it is difficult to design an effective program when it is paired with legislation that is supposedly aimed at improving market efficiency.
The farm provisions are a highly bastardized attempt to deal with market failures in agriculture. About the only farm provision left in the Farm Bill that is even partially defensible on efficiency grounds is subsidized crop insurance designed to help alleviate systemic regional risks (like drought). Private insurers have trouble staying afloat in the presence of systemic risk, and actuarily fair pricing would be prohibitively expensive for many farmers. Beyond that, many of the farm provisions in the farm bill bear little resemblance to efficiency improving market policies and we would all benefit from an examination of the provisions independent from food stamps. If that happens (and that's a big if) I'm not sure Republicans (or farmers) would like the outcome.
Now I will sit and wait for my boss' phone call...