Representative Mike Conaway (R-Texas), farm bill conferee and chair of the House Ag Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, kicked off the 2013 Farm Journal Forum with an optimistic tone. Conaway joked that he scrapped a previous, fiery version of his speech after yesterday’s meetings of farm bill principals since much progress was made and he expects more progress over the weekend. But he also noted that much remained to be completed. Conaway emphasized that this is essential for providing rural America certainty as to what’s ahead for the next five years.
There was very little partisanship during the farmer safety net negotiations, according to Conaway, though this was less the case when it came to food stamp negotiations. In an AgriTalk interview following the event, Conaway noted that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is still the No. 1 hurdle and that Title I safety net issues remain a contentious area.
In terms of timeline, Conaway reiterated Conference Chairman Frank Lucas’ (R-Okla.) indications that a farm bill will likely be completed in January due to the mechanics of process, including scoring, paperwork and getting the bill passed in both the House and the Senate. He noted on several occasions that getting it done this year would be preferable.
Conaway expressed optimism that the compromises the conference committee makes will be enough for farm bill passage in the House, especially since the leadership in the chamber backs its passage. Conaway noted that Lucas has been "bending over backward" to accommodate the Senate counterparts. He also said the House has not drawn hard lines on issues, including shallow-loss programs, whether new price guarantees will be made on base or planted acres or nutrition spending cuts and is open to compromise.
In reference to the contentious food stamp cuts, Conaway said that focusing so much on the numbers in terms of cuts is like trying to fit a "square peg in a round hole," especially since the Congressional Budget Office is essentially making an educated guess with its projections on which few project.
He took a firm stance about the need for a work requirement in terms of food stamp eligibility. Indeed, Conaway asserted that the success of food stamps should be gauged by how quickly people get off them, rather than the reverse.
Addressing talk that some Democrats are willing to "blow up" the entire farm bill rather than make cuts to food stamps, Conaway said that made little sense for rural America and production agriculture and therefore would make little political sense for lawmakers who represent these parts of the country.
On the crop insurance front, Lucas noted he personally opposes adjusted gross income limits on payments and will continue to fight against them. For one, he says that this artificially limiting this risk management tool punishes farmers based on size. In addition, with massive tax reform efforts underway, there is much uncertainty as to what impact this will have on farm income.
Conaway also expressed opposition to tying crop insurance to conservation compliance and said that the farm bill principals are working to keep this program, which is so important to farmers, as strong as possible. He is also in favor of sourcing food aid from the U.S.
Conaway also fielded a number of questions about dairy policy and a possible reversion to permanent law from 1949. Conaway indicated he does not support an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill to avert this possible reversion to permanent law as he feels this threat keeps pressure on lawmakers to complete a farm bill.