THE BLOG
07/17/2013 10:25 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

Not a Line Item, A Lifeline

Historically, commonsense bills and cornerstone pieces of legislation have worked their way through congress without much trouble. Under the current Republican House leadership that's no longer the case. First it was the Violence Against Women Act, now it's the Farm Bill.

If there was any question on whether or not Republicans are dead set on attempting to roll back the clock on our country in any way possible, this debate is the answer.

If Congress doesn't pass a new farm bill, the existing bill will expire. If it expires, our agriculture policy could be dictated by the last permanent rules established. Those permanent rules? They were established in 1949. 1949.

The Senate did its part to avoid that roll back. On June 10, it passed its version of the farm bill, a five-year measure that provided modern policies and fiscal responsibility. It protected family farmers by increasing taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance, and it protected low-income families by making only the most necessary cuts to SNAP food stamp funding.

After they passed their bill, they had sent it to the House within a day. That was five weeks ago.

So, what has the House leadership been doing?

First, they were voting on a version of the bill so flawed that it was both too conservative and also not conservative enough to pass. Then, in order to avoid the embarrassment of a second legislative collapse, the leadership decided to cut out a portion of the bill to win over their most conservative members.

That portion wasn't redundancies or technical language. It was the entire nutrition title. In order for a bill to gain enough support among today's House Republicans, they had to cut out the program that moves American farm goods from grocery stores to the tables of impoverished American families.

With just 22 legislative days left until the current bill expires, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair and EMILY's List alum Debbie Stabenow is -- rightly -- pushing for conference on this bill to begin as quickly as possible, but the House has been dragging its feet.

Stabenow has ruled out the idea of passing a farm bill without a title for food stamps, which would put food stamp funding in the jeopardy of the annual appropriations process. EMILY's List Senators Gillibrand, Feinstein, Murray, Baldwin and Warren have all championed the inclusion of food stamp funding, calling for a need to put people before partisanship.

"I'm not going to support an extension that leaves out big, important pieces of farm policy and keeps subsidies that we all agree should be eliminated," Stabenow said. "First of all, we could not pass that through the Senate, nor would the president sign that kind of bill."

Republicans say they plan to bring a separate nutrition bill to the floor, but give few specifics. Even a separate piece of Republican legislation on funding leaves the program highly vulnerable. The failed farm bill called for restrictions on eligibility and $20.5 billion in cuts, and House members have called for up to $135 billion in cuts to SNAP in the past. For comparison, the Senate bill cuts about $4 billion from the program.

Food stamps are not just a line item on a budget; they are a lifeline to American families. One that has existed since the 1930s. This is not an extravagance of the American government. The majority of recipients are working families, the seriously disabled and the elderly. And in my home state of Montana, the average monthly SNAP benefit is just $127.78 per person, which hardly provides for gourmet dining.

And those 1949 rules Republicans seem to be headed for? They were written for a different economy, a different country. They don't cover crops like peanuts or soybeans. And farmers growing things like wheat and sugar beets could see a lapse in conservation programs to protect them from soil erosion.

And, those rules could double the price of milk, adding insult to injury for families on SNAP whose food security Republicans have already put in jeopardy.

The farm bill is not just a piece of paper. It affects the lives of American families and farmers across the country. When I was growing up I spent time on my grandparents' farm outside of Mason City, Iowa and it was there I learned that family farms are more than businesses, they are a way of life.

That's why I'm so glad that the EMILY's List women like Senator Stabenow and Senator Gillibrand are fighting so hard for American families. They know that the legislation they write in Washington has a real impact on the lives of peoples across this country, and they won't let Republicans put them in danger.