In Case You Missed It: Farm Bill is a Good Start to Solving Spending Problem

Farm Bill is a Good Start to Solving Spending Problem
By Rep. Steve King
Des Moines Register
June 19, 2013

Washington has a spending problem. 

It is a true statement with the federal government running annual trillion dollar deficits.  And, it invites the question:  what is Washington doing about it?

House Republicans have made serious efforts to reduce deficit spending, but with a Democratic-led Senate and White House, there are limits.  Fortunately, though, Republicans have a golden opportunity to cut a significant sum of federal spending with the farm bill, specifically, with H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. 

The House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 1947 with nearly 80 percent of the Committee roster voting for it.  They had good reason to vote for it.  It is a different kind of farm bill. Conservatives who want to reduce the cost, size, and scope of the federal government have good reason to support it, too, when it comes to the House floor this week.

Not only does H.R. 1947 cut nearly $40 billion in mandatory, federal spending, it also sets forth a path for greater savings in the future because of fundamental policy reforms.

A major point that is seldom highlighted is the fact that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or what is known as food stamps, operates like an entitlement program.  This means it continues on unless Congress acts to change it or improve it. 

Although some argue that SNAP should be removed from the farm bill and considered separately, the more compelling argument is that the farm bill, which has an expiration date, allows lawmakers to implement reforms to SNAP every five years.  Otherwise, SNAP functions like other entitlement programs where there are many complaints about their cost and drag on the budget, but action is left to academics and pundits to study and discuss on cable news shows.    

In contrast, H.R. 1947 makes the first reforms to SNAP in decades.  These reforms rein in the cost of the program by enforcing the asset and income tests, ending recruitment activities that increase enrollment, and restricting states from circumventing the law to receive greater federal funding. 

H.R. 1947 also improves agricultural programs to be more cost-effective and market-oriented.  It reforms what is commonly referred to as the farm safety net by cutting more than 36 percent from traditional commodity programs. The reforms end payments to farmers who no longer farm and when the agriculture economy is doing well.  The focus is responsible risk management that is more insurance-based where a farmer purchases a policy and must suffer a loss and pay the deductible before collecting any kind of payment.

Could there be greater savings and reforms in H.R. 1947?  Sure.  There is always room for improvement when it comes to reducing government spending.  But, the reality is, unless we pass a farm bill, the status quo remains.  SNAP was exempt from sequestration cuts.  The House and Senate budgets, which have yet to be conferenced, include widely different views on the level of SNAP cuts.  And, lest we forget that direct payments were included in the one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill; this bill repeals direct payments to farmers.  In other words, failure to pass H.R. 1947 means zero savings and zero reforms to SNAP and farm policy.  Is that progress in addressing Washington’s spending problem?

Discard your preconceived notions about what you think a farm bill is or is not.  Discard the talking points of extreme groups that will never be satisfied with a farm bill no matter what reforms and savings it entails because then their purpose is greatly diminished.

Consider the House farm bill for what it is:  a solid start to solving Washington’s spending problem.  It’s not the end of the effort, it’s just the beginning.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee & Chairman of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition.