By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D) from Selma voted against H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (the new five year Farm bill). Rep. Sewell joined her fellow House Democrats as well as some 80 Republicans in the House to defeat HR 1947 by a vote of 195-234. Rep. Sewell issued a written statement afterwards to explain her vote.
Representative Sewell said, “While I am supportive of a five year farm bill extension, I voted against H.R. 1947 today because this bill did not strike the balance needed to protect the farmers in my district as well as those in Alabama who depend on nutrition assistance. This bill would have had devastating consequences for more than 913,000 families in Alabama who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP has saved millions of lives and currently provides essential support to over 160,000 individuals in my district in Alabama alone.”
Rep. Sewell continued, “This bill would have cut SNAP benefits by more than $20 billion over the next decade, leaving more than 2 million low-income people without food assistance and over 210,000 low-income children without access to their free school meals. It is unconscionable that we attempt to balance the deficit on the backs of low-income seniors, people with disabilities and working-poor families who depend on SNAP. I understand the urgent necessity to pass a farm bill that will ensure the certainty and safety net that Alabama farmers and growers desperately need to grow America’s produce. That is why I look forward to working with my colleagues to strike the right balance between the needs of food consumers and the needs of food producers.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (D) addressed the topic at a forum Friday in Kansas City. Sec. Vilsack said, “We need certainty in farm policy and, unfortunately, yesterday we didn’t get that certainty from the House of Representatives. There was a lack of political leadership at the highest levels of the House, which resulted in the failure for the first time perhaps in history, failure to pass farm legislation.”
Vilsack said that subsidy programs, crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) will suffer, but the failure to pass any sort of farm bill legislation this year will also have a negative effect on energy security, job growth, trade and research.
Sec. Vilsack said, “Honestly, we need to get beyond expressing disappointment and frustration, which is what we did last year and the same thing happened. The Senate, which is as conservative, and as progressive, and as divided as the House, found a way not once, but twice to pass a food, farm, and jobs bill.” The Senate version of the farm bill passed overwhelmingly with 66 votes in favor to 27 no votes (both Sens. Sessions and Shelby voted “No”). The former Governor of Iowa said, “It can be done if you are willing to reach across the aisle, if you are willing to compromise and if you are willing to search for consensus, but that didn’t happen yesterday and there are many, many losers as a result.”
Because the Democrats would not support the Republican farm bill and because more fiscally radical Republicans also would not support the Republican farm bill, the 2008 farm bill passed by a Pelosi controlled House will likely remain in place for another year. All six Alabama Republicans voted in support of the Republican farm bill. Thursday’s vote demonstrated a widening ideological divide within the House Republican Caucus and a Democratic Party that is eager to exploit that division.