The Farm Bill is headed for a vote in the House this week, and no one has any idea whether it will pass or not. That is unsettling to agriculture, which will have to pin its hopes on the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill, to be introduced very soon in that Chamber. The House version of the Farm Bill likely will not get any Democratic votes because the nutrition section is unfriendly to urban Democratic constituents.
Without the traditional farm and food coalition that has approved the last several Farm Bills, the current political scenario will leave the GOP proposal exposed to budget hawks who want to substantially reduce the crop insurance program, among others. So, what is happening now?
All the GOP members of the House Agriculture Committee are arm-twisting other Republican member of the House to vote yes, and not introduce any floor amendments that will make any substantial changes from the Committee’s bill. Chairman Michael Conaway said Friday, “We’ve got several folks that are still, quote-unquote, reading the bill and coming to their own conclusions. We’ve got a lot of undecideds.”
Those “undecideds” are hearing from Farm Bill opponents, who visited with the media also. The Heritage Foundation said the legislation will distort the market and puts less faith in farmers to compete in the marketplace. The Environmental Working Group wants crop insurance premium subsidies cut from 62 percent to 48 percent with a means test to restrict safety net benefits. Taxpayers for Common Sense says farmers should not get any safety net payments after their crop has been sold.
Conaway and Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts were summoned to the White House Friday to discuss their proposals with President Trump. Conaway said the discussion focused on the Farm Bill, “He’s also a really strong proponent of the work requirements being improved in SNAP, strengthening SNAP because he believes that work is a pathway to prosperity and that our program should help people get on that path and not trap them in some sort of public assistance program. He understands that there’s some turmoil in rural America as a result of some trade things going on but also understands that a good farm bill done on time would go a long way toward helping to ‘put a little oil in the water’ in rural America.”
Regarding the reported veto threat of the Farm Bill without a work requirement for SNAP recipients, Conaway said, “We didn’t go to that level. I just asked him for help getting my bill passed. We want to make sure what we can get out of the House that it’s supportive and he’s supportive of it. I asked him to use his prodigious social media array to help promote getting it out of the House and hopefully he will do that.”
What will happen this week when House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway is recognized to introduce House Resolution No. 2, the would-be 2018 Farm Bill? It may not be pretty. Although the GOP members of the committee have been “whipping up” votes in the past week and have encouragement from farm organizations to approve the proposal, the scenario is a carbon copy of 2012.
Republicans wanted at that time to impose a work mandate on recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but there was an insufficient number of votes from the Republican majority in the House to approve the entire Farm Bill. SNAP was separated as another piece of legislation, and the House could not approve either a standalone farm or food bill.
Late in 2013, fearing the implementation of parity prices on milk in January of 2014, the House approved a farm bill, which was taken into a conference committee with the Senate, and House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and the Senate Ag Committee leadership wrote completely new legislation that passed the House and Senate early in 2014 to avert parity prices and 1949 permanent farm law coming into play.
There are 110 new House members since that time, who don’t have any history of debating and voting on farm and food legislation. 2018 could start a repeat of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Farmers and consumers have a lot to gain or lose.