Heritage Action for America and other fiscally conservative groups are calling on House members to demand major changes to commodity programs and crop insurance in the House Republican farm bill.
“The bill not only fails to make reforms to farm subsidies, but actually makes the subsidies even worse,” says the letter released Wednesday by 14 organizations.
The letter could complicate the House GOP leadership’s attempt to win passage of the farm bill this month because of reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that the legislation includes. Democrats are expected to be united in opposition to the bill.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is warning conservative lawmakers that amendments cutting commodity programs or crop insurance would jeopardize passage of the bill and the SNAP provisions.
The letter doesn’t mention the SNAP reforms which include an expansion of work requirements for adults getting the aid.
The Heritage Foundation, of which Heritage Action is the advocacy arm, is also critical of the work requirements, arguing that too many adults without dependents would be exempted and that the bill would exacerbate a marriage penalty for parents of children over 6, who would also be required to work.
The letter says that the existing farm subsidy system “violates the most basic principles of conservatism, including a belief in free enterprise and limited government.”
Echoing conservative criticism of welfare programs, the groups say the farm bill promotes farmer dependence “on federal handouts, instead of empowering individuals to succeed on their own.”
The letter also singles out for criticism the sugar program, which is expected to be the subject of intense debate on the House floor.
“In 2018, it is hard to believe that the federal government dictates how much of a commodity can be sold, yet this is a key feature of the federal sugar program,” the letter says.
The groups also take a swipe at the bill’s liberalized payment rules, saying the legislation “creates new ways to funnel more money to agricultural producers, including to individuals who do not even farm."
The bill would allow members of LLCs and S corporations to individually qualify for up to $125,000 of crop subsidies annually. Under current law, the entire entity is limited to $125,000 a year. The bill also would add cousins, nieces and nephews to the list of a farmer’s family members who can be eligible for commodity programs.
The letter disputes the idea that cutting farm programs would be “anti-farmer.” “Quite simply, respect for farmers doesn’t mean tolerance for wasting taxpayer money on handouts.”
In addition to Heritage Action, the letter was signed by the Campaign for Liberty, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Club for Growth, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, FreedomWorks, Independent Women’s Forum, Independent Women’s Voice, John Locke Foundation, R Street Institute, Rio Grande Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
Two key conservatives, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and his predecessor, Jim Jordan of Ohio, have both signaled that they are open to supporting the bill. “Typical hard-nose (members) are not necessarily hard nose during this debate,” Meadows said last week.
But Dan Holler, vice president of Heritage Action, said this week that Republican lawmakers can't pass up the chance to push for reforms on the House floor, knowing that the Senate's bipartisan bill is even less likely to change existing policy. "This is the high water mark in terms of what w’ere going to see in terms of conservative policy," he said.
Conaway has said he hopes to have his bill on the House floor the week of May 14, but he first must make sure he has the votes to pass it.
The ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said on the Adams on Agriculture radio show Wednesday that Democrats wouldn't offer any amendments to the bill.