House Republicans were swept into office in January 2011 with promises of bringing greater transparency to the “people’s house.” One of those promises — included in the GOP’s “Pledge to America” and later enshrined in House rules — was a three-day period to provide members of Congress with adequate time to read and debate legislation.
The new 608-page version of the farm bill, introduced yesterday and approved by the House Rules Committee overnight, does not meet the three-day requirement. Here’s what House rules stipulate:
It shall not be in order to consider a bill or joint resolution which has not been reported by a committee until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day) on which such measure has been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner.
In order to get around the three-day requirement, the House Rules Committee voted to waive it. (UPDATE: House Republicans, with the exception of North Carolina Representative Walter Jones, voted to waiver the three-day review rule.)
A nearly trillion-dollar version of the farm bill was defeated in June when 62 Republicans bucked their own party. The new version, which is being considered on the House floor today, strips the bill of food-stamp spending.
Supporters of the new farm bill claim it is essentially the same version that was debated on the House floor in June. However, it does make a notable change: creating a new permanent law that may even be broader in scope than what was debated last month. That change alone deserves debate.
House Republicans are unnecessarily rushing this process. They’re also not giving members of Congress an opportunity to offer amendments or properly review the bill. This does not live up to the spirit of transparency.
UPDATE: Heritage’s Daren Bakst, an expert on agriculture policy, offered more details on the differences between the farm bill that was rejected in June and the version introduced yesterday. Here’s his explanation:
Most farm programs expire after five years so that Congress can revisit these programs, and make changes if necessary. The House bill that was rejected just a few weeks ago would have ensured that several key programs would sunset after this five-year time frame. In this new farm bill though, the House has switched things up by removing these sunset provisions and allowing the programs to last indefinitely. These programs that have no sunset date are often referred to as permanent law because they would exist permanently in their current form absent Congressional action. Unlike the previously rejected House farm bill, two new costly programs, shallow loss and reference-price programs, would be made permanent law. The sugar program would also be made permanent law.