Dueling Senate farm bill plan reveals divisions on climate, SNAP

By Staff
4 Min Read

Senate Democrats’ plan for the farm bill shows the two parties are still apart on issues related to climate and food aid funding, setting up the potential for a partisan stalemate as House Republicans push for action on the $1.5 trillion package before the end of the month.

Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow on Wednesday released a detailed summary of Democrats’ framework for the farm bill, which includes guardrails to protect funding for climate-smart agriculture and retains Congress’ ability to re-evaluate food assistance funding based on market inflation or other factors.

“This is a serious proposal that reflects bipartisan priorities to keep farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong,” Stabenow said in a statement. “I welcome my Republican colleagues to take it seriously and rejoin us at the negotiating table so we can finish our work by the end of the year.”

The framework was released the same day House Republicans unveiled their farm bill outline, which contained a number of nonstarters for Democrats. One of the biggest divides remains over the Thrifty Food Plan, which is the basis for determining benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Biden administration in 2021 overhauled the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect prices consumers pay at the grocery store by looking at a fuller picture of consumption patterns and dietary guidelines. Previously, the USDA ensured updates were considered “cost-neutral,” which kept the value of benefits unchanged when adjusted for inflation.

Republicans are now looking to once again make the Thrifty Food Plan cost-neutral and prevent the executive branch from “arbitrarily increasing or decimating” benefits. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott blasted Republicans’ plan on Wednesday, saying a Democratic counterproposal was rejected in favor “of a partisan bill with an untenable funding scheme.”

“By insisting on poison pill policies, Republicans have turned what could have been a genuinely bipartisan bill into a messaging exercise to appease their right flank that has no chance of becoming law,” Scott said in a statement.

Democrats have made it clear they will not support any changes to the Thrifty Food Plan and are simultaneously looking to safeguard billions of dollars in additional conservation funding under the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-smart agriculture programs. While House Republicans’ plan would also fold IRA funding into the conservation title for future farm bills, Democrats want guardrails to ensure the money is used to help farmers transition to more sustainable practices and prepare for extreme weather events.

Democrats’ plan, among other things, also looks to extend the reach of crop insurance to more commodities, including expansions in the safety net for beginning farmers. The proposal reflects an additional $5 billion in funding that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to find.

“The foundation of every successful Farm Bill is built on holding together the broad, bipartisan coalition of farmers, rural communities, nutrition and hunger advocates, researchers, conservationists, and the climate community,” Stabenow said in a statement. “This is that bill.”

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