Vote Notes: H.R. 2, The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018
Under the category of catching up on legislative votes, the House voted again on the Farm Bill last week. It passed, 213 to 211, and I joined 19 Republicans to vote against it. In this case, they picked up tem additional Republican votes, which was enough to put it over the top in this attempt.
The reason my vote stayed as it did is that there was no sweetener added to this bill to induce the 19 holdouts on the bill to vote yes.
More than anything, the bill’s slowdown was tied to timing. Conservatives had long wanted a vote on the Goodlatte immigration bill, and the Ag bill became the leverage to getting that vote, given it would only pass with Republican votes.
While the vote we took on Thursday morning on the Goodlatte bill was important, I don’t believe it was important enough to change one’s vote on the underlying bill.
For this reason, I have attached below my post from May 21st describing my original vote against the Farm Bill.
I want to reiterate one more time in this back and forth on the Farm Bill how important the work requirements were...but how in some ways, they were used as nothing more than a pleasant inducement to get people to look the other way on all that is wrong with our larger welfare programs and even the welfare that’s built into the farm subsidies now codified in law. As I note in the post below, I would have voted for this bill if the work requirements would stay with the bill. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case, given they will be stripped out in the Senate side and all we will be left with is more spending on both the ag and welfare sides of the Farm Bill.
If you haven’t yet, I’d ask that you take the time to read it….
Facebook post from May 21, 2018:
Last week, I voted against the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, better known as the Farm Bill. I suspect this bill will come back, and I hope that we’re able to make it a better bill in the process. Part of what was occurring here was also about leverage with regard to a vote on immigration...and that debate is still up in the air as well.
This bill failed by a vote of 198 to 213, and I was joined by 29 Republicans in voting no.
In many ways, it represents the most antiquated of spending structures in Washington, DC. Most of these programs were originated in the wake of the Great Depression and have been kept in place since then.
The system is harmful at several different levels. For instance, the sugar subsidy program costs all of us collectively more than $1 billion a year in the form of higher sugar prices and is responsible for much of the environmental degradation to the Everglades. Given the left arm too often doesn’t know what the right arm is doing in government, the federal government has now turned around and created yet another government program to deal with the environmental degradation to the Everglades! That one will run us another $2 billion as taxpayers….
I could go into each different program and talk about different policy items that I think each of us would find objectionable for either their direct or indirect cost.
This bill essentially didn’t deal at all with the subsidy component of the Farm Bill. I believe this was a mistake. The high watermark of amendments that attempted to change policy came with the sugar subsidy amendment. This effort was led by Rep. Virginia Foxx, and I spoke on it on the House floor.
And for all the talk of family farms, the benefits are concentrated such that the top 3 percent of farms get 40 percent of all the subsidies. Farms that gross over $1 million each year have increased their share of taxpayer dollars from 11 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 2015.
In fact, instead of reducing the level of taxpayer support for the largest of farmers, the bill actually expands these programs. For the first time, farm subsidies would be available to those that are far-away cousins, nephews, or nieces of a relative living on a farm, even if they have never even been to the farm. And the bill does not limit subsidies to one person per farm, as proposed by the Administration, or create any sort of requirements to work on the farm.
But in many ways, the Farm Bill is not a Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill component of the Farm Bill is about $20 billion of $90 billion spent. The other $70 billion outside of farming-related activities is tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This used to be called the food stamp program. It has been around since the 1960s and has included work requirements as a condition for receiving benefits since 1971.
The problem is that, despite the work requirements, many people who can work have not been, and the program has grown geometrically. In 2000, there were only 17 million people receiving SNAP benefits, and today, that number has exploded to 40 million...despite the fact that we are at record low levels of unemployment.
I wanted to look past the subsidy components of the program that I think work against your and my interests as taxpayers and consumers, but to do so, there needed to be real reform to the work requirements that would stick. Unfortunately, the unspoken truth that everyone knew in the chamber was that for whatever work requirements we might get in the House, they would immediately be detached in the Senate. And therefore, nothing more than the typical Farm Bill would come back to us in the House.
The dilemma was actually worse than this because I was in Congress the last time that work requirements were instituted for welfare recipients. Unfortunately, states took full advantage of different waiver options and effectively gutted the work requirements in the bill. This bill left those same waiver options in most cases standing...and therefore, I think it was a foregone conclusion that the work requirements would be gamed once again.
Let me be 100 percent clear...if I thought that there was a reasonable way of getting work requirements, I would have voted for this bill. What I didn’t want to work for was something that gave the impression that work requirements would be coming when in fact it would not, based on a combination of Senate action and options built into the bill itself.
States would still have a host of ways that they could exempt people from these requirements. Most significantly, the bill maintains both the geographic waivers and 15 percent exemption a state can use at its discretion.
One thing I did like about the bill was that it removed categorical eligibility, which allows people that qualify for one assistance program to automatically qualify for multiple others. Another savings that was good in this bill was denying parents benefits if they refuse to cooperate with child support agencies.
Here’s the really bad news in all of this, though. Whatever hypothetical savings might come from work requirements and reducing welfare eligibility in this bill were going to be redirected right back into training programs. At some point, if we attempt to save money in a program, I would hope that money might one day come back to the taxpayer or to paying down the national debt. The federal government assists at a variety of different levels in hosting governmental training programs, and the idea of beginning yet another wing of training through the Department of Agriculture struck me as being at cross purposes with the idea of limiting government.
Indeed, the bill would increase spending on job training from $110 million in current law to $1 billion a year. That is a 900 percent increase in mandatory spending.
It’s for these reasons, and many more, that I believe the bill fell short. It offered the facade and the hope of work requirements, which I strongly support, but in truth left in escape hatches that would keep them in illusion. At the same time, the bill left in place a host of 1930s-era central government planning fashioned subsidies that I think anyone who believes in free markets would find inefficient and costly. For these reasons, I voted no.