Montgomery County’s congressional representatives were split over the much-debated farm bill, which Congress passed and sent to the president’s desk.
The farm bill, officially known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, would set U.S. agricultural and food policy for the next five years.
Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) and three other Maryland congressmen voted no in the House on Jan. 29.
Rep. John Delaney (D-Dist. 6), one of two Maryland representatives who voted for the bill, praised his colleagues’ work toward cooperation and bipartisanship in Congress.
Two representatives did not vote. The measure passed the House, 251-166.
Both of Maryland’s U.S. senators voted in favor of the bill on Tuesday, where it passed 68-32. President Barack Obama hasn’t said if he will sign it.
Delaney said that without a farm bill, many programs essential to agriculture in Maryland would be underfunded.
Van Hollen said the bill contained too much pork-barrel spending.
“My focus has been on helping small family farmers,” he said, “but this bill included huge taxpayer subsidies to large agribusinesses.”
The farm bill continues a program that makes loans available to companies that grow sugar cane domestically and an income protection plan for cotton producers.
Maryland consumers and taxpayers will be paying for those programs, Van Hollen said.
“This unfortunately was a missed opportunity for some long-overdue reform,” he said.
Part of the nearly 1,000-page bill addresses the volatility of milk prices in the dairy industry.
Currently, the federal government directly pays dairies when the price of milk falls below a fixed minimum. Under the new legislation, dairy farmers would have the option to buy an insurance policy that would pay out when high feed prices push profit margins below an established threshold.
Van Hollen said that part of the bill was “the best balance we could achieve” after heavy debates between interest groups and members of Congress.
Delaney said he was surprised that so few Maryland representatives supported the bill, but the long process for this piece of legislation required a lot of compromise.
“The farm bill went through a very exhaustive and confrontational life cycle to get to the point where we had a Senate-House conference,” he said.
Van Hollen said members of Congress had little time — about 48 hours — to review the current version of the bill before a vote was held in the House; that compromised their ability to read and debate it.
The bill couldn’t please everyone, both congressmen said.
“Of course it could be better, but at some point, you have to get along,” Delaney said.
Van Hollen’s district includes parts of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties. Delaney’s district includes upper Montgomery County and western Frederick County, as well as Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.