People in the mainstream of the political spectrum are talking about an option to advance the 2013 Farm Bill by splitting off the Nutrition Title as separate legislation. This solution was not long ago only being talked about on the far end of the spectrum, but now is being mulled over by the policy leaders closer to the middle. Whether or not such a move is the result of short-term, tactical thinking, it will establish a precedent that will likely be followed in the future.
Policymakers have relied on pairing nutrition assistance with farm policy to move Farm Bills in the past. The logic is that the nutrition assistance component of the legislation generates broad appeal with urban and non-farm state legislators. This logic may be sound, but it is not the only alternative for producing a farm bill, and it is not working well in 2013.
Are there inherent reasons that nutrition assistance, dominated by the cornerstone Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), must be in the Farm Bill? Perhaps not. For starters, nutrition assistance is about food, but the program is not delivered the same way as farm programs. SNAP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the same agency that administers farm commodity programs, conservation programs, foreign trade promotion for agricultural products, and federal crop insurance. But at the local level, SNAP is implemented by state agencies (and sometimes county and city government agencies) that are most assuredly not agricultural departments concerned with farm production. Delivery of the SNAP program at the local level diverges significantly from delivery of programs for farmers, and of course the stakeholders are very different.
Whether or not separating the Farm Bill into multiple pieces of legislation is a good idea should be debated, and the most sensible course of action taken. Politics certainly plays a role in this debate, and sound strategic thinking and operational considerations should be at the forefront.