This fall, farmers across Missouri and the nation will be hitting the fields to harvest their crops as part of an annual ritual that has helped make our country the breadbasket of the world. As a small farmer myself, harvest time invigorates me and reminds me of how great our country is.
Farm Bills in various forms have been around since the Great Depression, and have provided farm families with the stability they need to plan for the future. The House version of the 2013 Farm Bill ensures the American people will continue to enjoy a safe, abundant and affordable food supply, which I view as a matter of national security. And I believe the bill places us on the right path to holding a conference committee with the Senate, and ultimately the enactment of a five-year proposal that gives America's farmers and ranchers some certainty going forward.
Congress first paired federal commodity programs with federal nutrition programs back in the 1970s to ensure urban and rural lawmakers would come together and pass the Farm Bill every five years. With nutrition programs -- specifically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - now experiencing rapid growth and accounting for roughly 80 percent of the Farm Bill, the dynamics have changed. In this era of trillion dollar deficits and a $17 trillion debt, what used to bring urban and rural lawmakers together is now driving them apart.
Reforming the SNAP program, which has roughly doubled under President Obama, has made enacting a new Farm Bill very challenging over the last couple of years. When the House Farm Bill came to the floor the first time this year, it had $20 billion in savings from SNAP in it by enacting various reforms, as well as $20 billion in savings from reforms to the farm and conservation programs that make up the rest of the bill, including the elimination of direct payments. Some legislators felt there were too many reforms for SNAP, some felt there were too few and ultimately, the legislation failed to get the 218 votes necessary to pass it. A majority of the House did support the farm and conservation programs in the bill and as a result, the House came back and passed those portions of the bill separately.
The House Farm Bill is, in my estimation, a victory for farmers who were seeking certainty and stability, as well as common-sense reforms to many of our farm programs. As a conservative dedicated to reducing government spending, I was pleased that this legislation responsibly consolidates and streamlines programs to save nearly $20 billion in taxpayer dollars by doing things such as eliminating direct payments and no longer allowing payments to those who don't farm and eliminating or combining 23 duplicative and overlapping programs into 13. I also was pleased that the House version of the Farm Bill invests in meaningful conservation programs to benefit future generations of Americans.
It is important that we provide certainty to our farm families across the country about our commitment to agriculture. A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into maintaining the quality of our food supply and it would be unfortunate if Washington politics gets in the way of that. I'll be home in Missouri for the next month and I'll be talking to many of you about the bill and agriculture policy in general and I hope to take your insights back with me when Congress comes back into session this fall.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., represents the state's 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 573-635-7232.