WASHINGTON — The House has passed the contentious $10 billion Farm Bill agreement that pays for commodity and food stamp programs and includes a pot of money for numerous Colorado communities to fund education and emergency services.
The measure passed 251 to 166 in a bipartisan vote Wednesday but split the Colorado delegation.
Republican Rep. Cory Gardner and Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter voted yes, while Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman voted no along with Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis.
Republican Rep. Scott Tipton missed the vote because of a death in his family, but said in a statement he would have voted yes because it funded the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) program essential to Western Slope communities and also contained spending reforms that cut more than $16 billion from the ten-year program.
“There is much in the Farm Bill that is vital for the health of our agriculture economy, including crop insurance, research, investments in production and regulatory relief,” Tipton said.
“I was pleased that the conference committee listened to our call to include funding for the vital PILT program that so many rural counties rely on to provide essential services including education, infrastructure maintenance, and law enforcement,” Tipton said.
The one-year extension of PILT funding provides more than $400 million nationwide, with $32 million for Colorado, for rural communities to make up for federal land that cannot be taxed.
The federal government owns 600 million acres of land, and to make-up for the non-taxable property makes annual payments in the form of taxes to 1,900 communities in 12 Western states.
Democratic and Republican leaders stripped PILT funding from the budget agreement passed earlier this month, forcing Western lawmakers to cut a last-minute deal to include the money in the controversial Farm Bill.
The Senate is expected to quickly pass the measure and President Barack Obama has pledged to sign the bill.
The agriculture spending measure included $756 billion for food stamps in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that now feeds 47 million Americans, but it eliminated a loophole that allowed anyone receiving $1 in heating assistance to automatically enroll.
Crop insurance programs were funded at $90 billion, along with $56 billion for conservation measures, and $44 billion for commodity programs, while nearly 100 programs and funding authorizations were eliminated.
Spending also includes a new program to encourage food stamp recipients to get a job, and changes rules to block college students, lottery winners and illegal immigrants from obtaining the benefits.
Instead of dairy price controls, the program now offers insurance policies as a financial safety net to aid farmers and ranchers when prices drop.
The Farm Bill price supports for dairy products and so-called conservation programs that pay farmers not to grow crops have historically created a split between urban and rural lawmakers.
Adding food stamps to the mix also caused a rift between Democrats who support annual spending increases, and Republicans that lobby for waste and fraud controls.
“While I had hoped for broader and deeper reforms, this is an important step to bringing our farm policy into the 21st century with targeted cuts to wasteful spending, and the elimination of outdated programs,” Gardner said.
“Not taking any action on this bill would allow farm policy to revert to World War II era legislation and would continue to fund SNAP at current levels, which is unacceptable,” Gardner said.
Numerous Democrats said they voted against the bill because of the cut in food stamps funding.
“This bill will do great damage to the nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat argued during the floor debate. “Children will be unable to think about school because they are hungry.”
Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican, countered that the government’s “goal should be to get people off SNAP and into jobs.”
“This bill is a lesson in fiscal responsibility,” Davis said.
The measure also contained language opposed by several environmental groups that exempted forest roads and logging from Clean Water Act rules enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA tried to claim jurisdiction over logging areas citing storm water runoff as pollution, but the Supreme Court overturned the agency’s decision.