Mark Stephenson: Senate’s Farm Bill may have tougher sledding in the House

As expected, the U.S. Senate passed the Farm Bill on June 10 with a bipartisan majority. In fact, the bill passed 66 to 27—a much stronger showing of support than most observers anticipated.  This has some implications for what will happen in the House process this week.

The House has many freshman members (almost 200 of the 435 members) who have never been through a Farm Bill vote, and many of them are strongly motivated by a sense of position rather than compromise.  Speaker Boehner has vowed a “vigorous and open debate” when the bill comes to the floor. In a bid to gain support from House conservatives who have opposed the measure, the House bill approved by the Agriculture Committee last month would make much larger cuts to food nutrition programs than the Senate version.

The food and nutrition cuts are a source of partisan divisions in the House vote, but contentions about the bill’s dairy provisions don’t fall so cleanly across party lines. Speaker Boehner is vocally opposed to the market stabilization measure (supply management) and as a former chair of the House Ag Committee, he has the street cred to back it up.  Colin Peterson (D-Minn), the current ranking member of the committee, also has the pedigree of former chair of the committee.  Moreover, he is the author and a strong supporter of the dairy title.

In regards to the dairy title, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), said “The bottom line is we have to beat Boehner on the floor.”  The strong bipartisan Senate vote will probably make it more difficult for Speaker Boehner to be obstructionist.  When asked about the probability of passing the dairy title with the market stabilization intact, Welch commented “jump ball.”

Mark Stephenson
Director of Dairy Policy Analysis