House Ag Committee approves farm bill proposal

Four Democrats join all Republicans in 33-21 vote

May 24, 2024

4 Min Read
Capitol Building
Douglas Rissing

With the clock well past midnight, House Agriculture Committee lawmakers passed the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024. Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson cast the final vote for his farm bill proposal with an emphatic “oh yeah.”

Minutes later, after the marathon mark-up session officially concluded, Thompson turned to Ranking Member David Scott and said, “I didn’t expect that.”

The chairman was referring to Illinois Rep. Eric Sorensen’s decision to join all committee Republicans voting to pass the bill. Democrats Yadira Caraveo of Colorado, Georgia’s Stanford Bishop and North Carolina’s Don Davis also broke ranks with their party in the 33 to 21 vote.

“I’m voting for this legislation believing it’s the beginning of bipartisan legislation that will protect producers and food insecure families and provide them with a strong safety net,” Davis said in a statement issued after the vote.” There’s much more work ahead of us to deliver the strongest bipartisan bill that American families, rural communities, and eastern North Carolina deserve.”

According to a Democrat source close the negotiations, the four defections were expected.

The bill now moves on to the full House. Speaker Mike Johnson has not said if he plans to bring the farm bill up for a vote. If he does, he will likely need a few more Democrats to vote against their party leaders.

“This bill may have advanced out of committee, but it has no future,” Ranking Member David Scott said early Friday morning. “It does not have the Democratic support necessary to be brought to the House Floor. It will not become law.”

A long day with lots to say

From the moment the 11 a.m. markup session began, the bitter partisan divisions over the bill were clear. Members from both parties alternately praised and panned the GOP-backed proposal.

As expected, Republicans touted the bill as one which boosts farm programs and include many bipartisan priorities. Thompson emphasized numerous Democratic priorities were included in the bill. He added that, despite Democrat rhetoric to the contrary, he has consistently encouraged members from the other party to discuss ways to reach a better bipartisan consensus.

Multiple Democrats pushed back on that assertion, strongly criticizing Republicans for funding changes to the Thrifty Food Plan. They say the changes essentially eliminates $30 billion in nutrition funding.

“I am just shocked by the callousness and lack of empathy with the way this has been done,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D- Mass., said. “We have staffers telling reporters that my colleagues and I are hunger weirdos. What the hell is wrong with you guys?”

Republicans countered that SNAP benefits will not decrease. They say their proposal is not a cut, but rather a better way to address current needs. Rep. Austin Scott, R- Ga., noted several times that nutrition funding accounts for 82% of all spending in the farm bill. That, he says, is proof enough that Republicans are not trying to deny assistance for those in need. Still, many Democrats were not buying it.

“You may say as often as you like that this is not a cut,” Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D- Ill., said. “But the harsh reality is that over the next 10 years, benefits are going to be dramatically reduced and as result of bill.”

Following Budzinski’s allotted time, the hearing took a quick recess after two people interrupted proceedings, calling committee members “corrupted” for supporting animal agriculture. Law enforcement quickly escorted them out of the hearing room.

Democrat amendments fail

Following hours of comments from every member, the committee considered multiple amendments to the farm bill proposal.

As expected, Republicans defeated a Democrat attempt to strike down the bill’s nutrition funding plan. Republicans also defeated an amendment that would have scuttled plans to move Inflation Reduction Act climate funding into farm bill conservation programs.

Democrats proposed an amendment to strike a provision in the bill suspending the Secretary of Agriculture’s authority to use Commodity Credit Corporation funds for emergency purposes. Instead, the bill puts that authority in the hands of Congress. Thompson says removing the authority will free up funds for other programs. Democrats say Congressional Budget Office estimates do not align with that math.

The committee did approve a provision intended to close a loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill. That provision allows cannabis products to include THC, the intoxicating component of marijuana, if it accounts for no more that 0.3% of the product’s dry weight. Since then, manufacturers have developed techniques that allow them to include significant amounts of THC while still meeting that weight requirement.

What happens next?

Despite the committee vote, the farm bill as currently written faces an uphill battle. The Democrat-led Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to present a much different bill in the coming weeks. Whether or not the two chambers can reach a compromise remains the big question. Still, there’s no doubt Thursday night…err Friday morning was a good one for Republicans.

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