WASHINGTON D.C. - Congressman Tim Walz strongly opposes plans by Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to split the nutrition and agriculture portions of the omnibus Farm Bill.
The four-term Democrat from the 1st Congressional District believes the split is a recipe for failure and it potentially puts U.S. farmers in an even riskier position. However, he said he finds himself open to almost any proposals in order to make progress on the agriculture portions of the Farm Bill.
The current situation resulted from an unexpected failure to pass the Farm Bill on June 20, due to the size of Republican opposition. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it because they opposed 80 percent of the $1 trillion bill going to nutrition and food stamp programs. They repeatedly called for even more severe cuts to the food stamp programs than the compromise proposal. All but 24 Democrats voted against the bill because it cut $20.5 billion from food assistance programs over 10 years.
The situation has left the House Republican leadership in a difficult position due to the increasingly intense pressure to pass the agriculture portions of the bill. This week, they responded by seeking support by splitting off the agriculture portion of the bill and pass it exclusively in the House. The move is expected to alienate more Democratic votes, but it is an attempt to gain back enough hard-line Republicans to achieve passage.
The Senate version that was passed included both portions of the bill.
Seeking a way forward
Walz said he has always opposed splitting the Farm Bill as unfairly playing one side against the other and imperiling the coalition it creates to ensure passage of the agriculture portions.
The Farm Bill combined the agriculture and nutrition omnibus legislation decades ago in a compromise to ensure passage both, primarily since they complement in the market and come from dramatically different parts of the country.
In the immediate terms, Walz said splitting the bill is the only real option Republicans have to pass anything. He said lawmakers who claim it was last-minute amendments added to the bill are wrong. He said the majority of Republicans who voted against the bill also voted in those amendments.
"[The more extreme Republicans] want to zero this program out. They want to eliminate government all together," said Walz, "This is what happens when extremists rule the day."
He said that despite a split being the Republicans' only move, the fact the Senate will not accept a split version means it is guaranteed to fail. The bill will come back from conference committee with a compromise version with a small amount of nutrition portions, which has been proven to not pass with the House Republicans.
However, Walz said that despite his views, he is willing to vote for just the agriculture portion in an attempt to make progress on the bill. Farmers desperately need to know what government rules they will be playing by for their business. He said that voting for a split would not mean he supports the split.
Walz said his biggest concern about trying to split the Farm Bill is the population and number of representatives from big cities that rely on food stamps easily outnumber the agriculture population in size. He said that attempts to play the sides against each other could mean agriculture losing out for years.
He also added that he also strongly opposed a split because it seemed to unfairly assume there is something wrong with the people who need food stamps.
"With most of [food stamps] going to children and the elderly, I don't believe we should act like it's a crime to be hungry," said Walz.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)