Negotiators “are nearing agreement on many of the issues” in the farm bill, said Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts on Tuesday, although one committee member said he doubted there will be an agreement this year.
Two days after farm bill negotiators declared unity in working together on the 2018 farm bill, the House author of the most controversial proposal on the table — stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients — attacked Senate negotiators as weak-willed.
The Senate farm bill will clamp down on payments to so-called managers who live in town and exercise little control over farm operations, announced the leaders of the Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. Still to be resolved was a proposal to make the wealthiest farmers pay more for federally subsidized crop insurance.
Thanks to speedy action by the Agriculture Committee, the Senate is on track to pass its five-year farm bill before the end of June, boosting the chances that the Republican-controlled Congress will enact the major legislation before election-year tensions stymie work later this year.
In the last farm bill, conservative Republicans demanded the biggest cuts in food stamps in a generation, leading the House to defeat the bill in June 2013. It then took Congress more than six months to put the pieces together. The same outcome is possible now after a revolt by Republican conservatives defeated a new farm bill calling for stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients and looser payment limit rules for farmers. But this time the delay may stretch into the new year.
There is little bite in the weak limits the government imposes on farm subsidy payments, and now reformers say the limits will become toothless under provisions in the Republican-drawn farm bill in the House.
After Democrats spent three hours criticizing House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway’s plan to overhaul SNAP, the committee approved its draft of the farm bill on a party-line vote.
The leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have ruled out major changes in the food stamp program, effectively rejecting big cuts to the program before House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway can write them into his committee’s version of the farm bill. (No paywall)
The Senate Agriculture Committee will draft its version of the 2018 farm bill in April if chairman Pat Roberts’ plans hold up. Roberts discussed the timeline for the bill, but not its contents, at a child nutrition luncheon.
The budget agreement written by Senate leaders includes more than $1 billion for dairy supports as well as larger subsidies for cotton growers. Besides providing immediate assistance to producers, the provisions would mean that farm-state lawmakers can spend more money on cotton and dairy in the 2018 farm bill than is available now.
Cotton growers are pushing for the second overhaul of USDA subsidies in four years and the results could be expensive to taxpayers and risk another trade complaint at the WTO, says the free-market American Enterprise Institute. Congress totally re-wrote the cotton program in the 2014 farm bill to resolve a WTO ruling, sought by Brazil, that over-generous U.S. subsidies distorted world trade.
On the same day that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue released a 42-point list of farm bill principles, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said the 2018 bill should end the “dishonest” practice of crop subsidy payments to non-farmers.
Congress could just as easily extend the 2014 farm law, with add-ons to fix cotton and dairy subsidies, as pass a new farm bill this year, said Texas A&M economist James Richardson, a farm policy expert.
The House could debate the new farm bill as early as January or February, said House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway, meaning that very soon farm-state lawmakers “are going to have some hard decisions to make.”
Since the 1930s, the government has relied on voluntary conservation efforts by farmers, often supplemented by federal payments, to reduce erosion and protect water quality. That approach is no longer sufficient, says the American Enterprise Institute.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who nearly succeeded in tightening the eligibility rules for farm subsidies in the 2014 farm law, says he’ll try again with the 2018 farm bill to end payments to city dwellers who never set foot on the farm or take no role in running it.
The insurance-like dairy subsidy created in the 2014 farm law has been roundly criticized as a failure by farmers and dairy-state lawmakers. The USDA signaled its agreement, telling producers they can opt out of the Margin Protection Program for 2018, rather than remaining locked into it while Congress writes a new farm bill.
With House Republicans bogged down in budget discussions, the conservative group Heritage Action accused Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway of being unwilling “to cut a paltry amount of federal spending from his committee.” A spokeswoman for Conaway called the criticism part of “Heritage Action’s long-running campaign against America’s farmers and ranchers.”