The vote was 251-166. All members of the Alabama delegation voted for it.
Or, in other words, they voted to save money. Although the bill’s price tag is high, its supporters claim it will save $16 billion to $23 billion during the next decade — depending on which accounting gimmick you use. The money was saved by cutting some programs, eliminating others and in some cases increasing responsibilities.
Food Stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP — was one of the items cut, which should save around $8 billion, proponents say. This was largely accomplished by adjusting how federal heating-assistance payments are linked to federal food aid.
Eliminated were direct payments to farmers — a $5 billion program that subsidized farmers whether they grew crops or not.
Some responsibilities increased, including those at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA now must police itself better so that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dearly departed cannot receive food stamps. The department must also cease spending money to advertise available benefits. Supporters of this practice (including the advertisers) say this is just informing people of the benefits for which they qualify. Critics say it amounts to recruiting beneficiaries.
Among the affected is almost everyone connected with agriculture — from the family farm to agribusiness to consumers.
Meanwhile, poor Americans who live in cold climates — which is just about everywhere right now, but mostly in big cities in the north — will be among those who feel the pain of this bill. Cuts to food stamps and subsidies to heating are going to cause real hardship.
Is it a good bill? Liberals don’t like it because it cuts money to social programs. Fiscal conservatives don’t like it because it does not cut enough. The Red Meat Safety Research Center lost its funding, but the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center lives on.
On the plus side, it is a Farm Bill, something we have not had since 2008, and it continues the tradition of linking agricultural policy and nutrition assistance, which is a good thing.
The Senate is expected to pass it, then the president will sign it, and for the next five years the United States will have an agriculture policy. Then the fight will begin again.