USDA Chief Expresses Deep Concerns Over House GOP’s Farm Bill

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack harshly criticized a Republican-drafted farm bill, stating that it would weaken the coalition that has historically rallied behind such legislation.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R–Pa.) will lead the charge in moving the enormous five-year bill regulating agriculture, nutrition, commodities, and conservation programs into markup on Thursday morning.

It seemed like it was heading for a showdown with a plan in the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, over conservation and anti-hunger initiatives. Plus, the House GOP only has a thin 217-213 majority, so the must-pass measure is in jeopardy.

Vilsack voiced his displeasure with the eight-month delay on the $1.5 trillion legislation and his “deep concerns” with the proposed package that Thompson unveiled last week. Last year, lawmakers in the House who were at odds over budgetary allocations and who would serve as speaker extended the 2018 agriculture bill until September 30.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food stamps to over 40 million low-income households; Vilsack has stated his opposition to any measures that would cut funding for the program.

The liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has calculated that the law will reduce benefits by $30 billion over ten years by restricting future modifications to the Thrifty Food Plan, the foundation for benefit levels. According to Vilsack, the figure is $27 billion.

The Commodity Credit Corporation administers a number of agricultural programs; he also expressed disapproval of a portion of the House measure pertaining to this agency.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has a plan for a farm bill that Vilsack says is “more practical” and “doable.” Among other things, Stabenow’s bill—which she has just provided a summary of—would expand access to food assistance programs like SNAP.

In a statement released after the conversation, Thompson refuted Vilsack’s remarks and said that his measure constitutes “historic investments” in the agricultural sector.

A number of prominent figures, including the head of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the head of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and leaders of different commodity and trade groups, have expressed their support for the Thompson proposal, which the committee included in a press release on Wednesday.