Collins said he will vote for farm bill that ends farm subsidies, reforms food stamps
It's a compromise that many thought a contemporary version of Congress could never pass, but Rep. Chris Collins said that even if he wishes some things were different, he plans to vote on a new farm bill that's ready for consideration by the full House.
The compromise bill was announced today and Collins held a telephone press conference to discuss his support of the measure.
"It's a very good bill, but there's something in it that pretty much everyone doesn't like," said Collins, who sits on the Agriculture Committee.
The 1,000-page bill ends decades of direct subsidies to farmers that paid out roughly $5 billion annually and replaces it with a crop insurance program designed to provide the same measure of financial management against disastrous weather or substantial price fluctuations.
Several "outdated and ineffective dairy programs," according to an ag committee statement, are eliminated. Dairy producers will be able to voluntarily enter into a margin protection program that will not have government mandated supply controls.
Speaker John Boehner opposed the former programs as "Soviet-style" market manipulation.
The other major reforms in the farm bill deal with SNAP, better known as food stamps. The reforms are expected to eliminate $9 billion in fraud and abuse.
In all, supporters of the bill are claiming it will save taxpayers $23 billion.
Collins said it will particularly provide local dairy farmers a range of certainty around which they can plan production.
"Now they can plan farm activity around a new crop insurance program and they know what it's going to look like for the next five years," Collins said. "It's a big relief to have this move forward and come to a vote."
Those who wanted the regulation of catfish to be handled by the FDA instead of the USDA won't be happy with the bill, Collins said, which is an example of how the legislation won't make everybody happy.
There were some provisions that dairy farmer associations initially opposed.
But even the industry groups eventually came around and supported the bill.
A statement from Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation:
"That process is now complete. Despite its limitations, we believe the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers’ milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand.
"The program that we have worked to develop establishes a reasonable and responsible national risk management tool that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination. By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk. The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program that lacks any means to disincentivize more milk production during periods of over-supply.
Also unhappy, Collins said, will be those who think food stamps should never be touched.
"Let's be clear, no one who deserves food stamps is getting cuts," Collins said.
As an example, Collins noted that under the old regime anybody who received federal heating assistance, even if it was just $1 per month, was eligible to receive food stamps, even without any income or asset test. That ends with the new program, Collins said.
"It was a backdoor way for people to get food stamps who didn't deserve them," Collins said. "It's good government in this day of deficit spending that the money is going to go to the people who truly deserve it."
Asked if Democrats might to used the changes to SNAP as a campaign issue against those "heartless Republicans," Collins said, his message to them is go ahead and try.
"One thing for sure is that distortion of truth is what politics and commercials are all about more than substance," Collins said. "I'm sure there are those who will try to claim that this is a cut in food stamps for those who deserve it and if they do make that claim, it's a lie.
"Anyone who is opposed to this bill is somebody who is very partisan in nature and not interested in saving taxpayers money," Collins added. "I'd turn that back on anyone who wanted that debate and I'd turn it back in about two seconds."