House quietly aims for farm bill revival by June 22

Four days after defeating the farm bill, the House quietly delayed Speaker Paul Ryan’s attempt to revive the bill until June 22, with GOP leaders hoping that hardline Republicans will vote for it the second time. Members of the House Freedom Caucus provided the decisive votes against the farm bill to underline their demand for a roll call on immigration controls.

“Obviously, last Friday was regrettable. Obviously, we did not want to see members take down the farm bill,” Ryan told reporters on Tuesday. Republican leaders are trying to “find the consensus sweet spot” on immigration, he said. The GOP intends to hold a vote on immigration, particularly the status of so-called Dreamers, in the same week as the farm bill vote.

Representatives agreed to the June 22 target by passing, 227-180, a multipart resolution for debate of three bills, including a military spending bill. Section 7 of the resolution said action on the farm bill “may continue to be postponed through the legislative day of Friday, June 22, 2018.” Without the approval of the resolution, Ryan’s request for a new vote on the farm bill would have expired Tuesday.

An aide to Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts said, “No date has been locked down just yet” for a committee vote on a Senate farm bill. Roberts told a Bloomberg reporter that he is aiming for a June 6 vote in committee. Roberts and the senior Democrat on the committee, Debbie Stabenow, have said they do not plan major changes in food stamps, unlike the House bill.

House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway proposed stronger work requirements for food-stamp recipients and looser payment-limit rules for farmers. It also would eliminate the cost-sharing Conservation Stewardship Program. The top priority of farm groups for the farm bill is maintenance of a strong crop insurance program.

When Congress reconvenes in early June, after a 10-day recess for the Memorial Day holiday, it will have seven or eight weeks for legislative action before its August holiday and the unofficial start of the campaign season on Labor Day. Election-year tensions often bring legislation to a standstill. The 2014 farm law expires on Sept. 30, although many provisions will remain in effect for months. Food stamps and crop insurance are permanent programs and would remain in operation regardless.

Federal support programs are often described as the farm safety net and protection against low commodity prices and their threat to farmer income. Farm income is running at half of the peak set in 2013 before the seven-year commodity boom collapsed.

Government payments “are only modestly counter-cyclical,” said economist Brent Gloy after comparing year-to-year alignment of income and subsidies since 1970. Gloy found “a slight tendency (for payments) to rise when incomes fall and vice versa. In other words, if the goal is to construct a program that is intended to provide a safety net in times of falling income, the programs have been only modestly successful at best,” he wrote in the article, “Farm programs and farm income: A broken linkage?” at the blog Agricultural Economic Insights.

Defeat of the farm bill was an embarrassment for Ryan, who has made welfare reform a touchstone, and for the White House, which called for new and stronger work requirements for welfare. Ryan brushed aside questions at a news conference about whether the defeat of the bill was a repudiation of his leadership, and if he ought to step aside as speaker. “The best thing for us is to complete our agenda,” he replied. Majority Whip Steve Scalise said attention should focus on Democrats, who voted as a block against the farm bill, rather than the 30 Republican votes against the bill, half of which came from the Freedom Caucus.