GOP bloc urges swift passage of farm bill

Sixty-one House Republicans called on Speaker Mike Johnson for speedy passage of the new farm bill, despite a grim outlook for the legislation expressed by a leading analyst. Work on the farm bill is at an impasse among farm-state lawmakers over crop subsidy and climate funding, with conservatives itching for the chance during floor debate to constrain SNAP eligibility and outlays.

Ahead of his election as speaker last week, Johnson circulated a priority list that included a vote in December on the farm bill. “Begin negotiations as soon as possible” with the Senate on a final version of the bill, he wrote.

There was little hope of enacting a farm bill this year, given the backlog of appropriations bills for government agencies and the Nov. 17 expiration of stopgap funding for the government.

“The farm bill is a critical agenda item that must be addressed this Congress,” said the 61 lawmakers, who account for one in four of House Republicans. “We urge you and the [Republican] conference at large to be united in ensuring swift passage of a strong farm bill that is written by farmers, for farmers, and by rural communities, for rural communities – supporting the farm, ranch, and forester families we represent.”

Among the signers of the letter were most of the 27 Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee but not its chairman, Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, or former chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the No. 2 Republican. The letter, organized by Agriculture Committee member Brad Finstad of Minnesota, said, “More than 92 percent of our nation’s planted acres are represented by Republican members.”

“The outlook is foreboding,” wrote associate professor Jonathan Coppess of the University of Illinois, a former USDA official and author of a book on farm bill politics. A temporary revival of the 2018 farm law “is likely the least bad option” for Congress, he said on the farmdoc daily blog. “It might be worth considering a continuation of the current farm program authorities for another five years rather than gamble away the farm bill coalition.”

Since the 1970s, an urban-rural coalition of lawmakers has been key to passage of farm bills, backed by the support of farm groups, antihunger groups, and conservation, sportsmen, and environmental groups. That coalition is in jeopardy, said Coppess, by the months-long talk of raiding climate funding and some rural development accounts to offset the cost of raising reference prices, which would make it easier to trigger crop subsidy payments.

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has insisted on higher reference prices. Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow prefers an expansion of federally subsidized crop insurance. In a speech last week, she said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer might be able to wangle “several billion dollars” for the farm bill. She also said the farm bill should protect funding for land stewardship and public nutrition programs.

Over the years, farm bills have become an all-consuming effort for the agriculture committees in Congress. The panels began hearings on the new farm bill in early 2022 and set aside most other work this year. The “four corners,” the Republican and Democrat leaders of the House and Senate committee, have negotiated in private for weeks. Neither panel has released a first draft of the broad-spectrum legislation, which covers commodity supports, international food aid, ag research, rural development, crop insurance, soil and water conservation, SNAP and related public nutrition programs, export promotion, and forestry. The CBO estimates the new farm bill will cost $150 billion a year, most of it in SNAP.

To read the Republican letter to Johnson, click here.