The farm bill is creating a great divide in the House. After a terse conversation during the markup in the House Agriculture Committee, the floor vote got derailed by conservative immigration legislation, legislation that’s still holding the process hostage.
“It all hinges on immigration,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas). “This had nothing to do with the farm bill whatsoever. It's all about the conversation that we're having on immigration.”
Last week, House leadership met with some of the champions of the GOP immigration legislation. With a vote scheduled next week, the farm bill is slated for a vote on or before June 22.
“For the first time, maybe the first or second time since I’ve been in Congress, we've triggered a motion to reconsider,” said Conaway.
As the farm bill vote remains on the waiting list, there is strong divide over tying work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that’s creating a hostile environment in the House. House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said the issue is a non-starter for him.
“They're trying to spin as this is something new, we're going to put work requirements on,” said Peterson in a one-on-one interview with U.S. Farm Report. “We've had work requirements for 22 years and they have been totally ineffective, so we're going to double down on something that's failed for 22 years? I don't think so.”
He said instead of the farm bill making changes that would create improvements, he claims the only thing the House bill would accomplish with SNAP is more paperwork.
“We had 23 hearings on food stamps,” said Peterson. “What we heard in those hearings were there needed to be changes, and are any of those changes in this bill? No. If they would get real and start talking about what's really going on here, and what needs to happen, then I can come back to the table, and I'd come back to the table even before that if they would talk to me, but they haven't talked to me for six weeks.”
It’s that standoff in the House that’s still weighting on the 2018 farm bill; a bill that’s only days away from another vote.
“That's not the way to run the railroad,” said Conaway. “Republicans are in charge. We shouldn't necessarily be using Democrats to make that happen.”
Looking past SNAP and other contentious issues, Peterson says the bill doesn’t provide any major changes to current legislation.
“The bill that's being considered, it’s basically the same in terms of Title 1, and they're all basically the same as terms of Title II,” said Peterson. “There's not a lot of enthusiasm out there for this bill. I mean I'm not getting a lot of pressure. I'm not getting a lot of people calling me up saying you've got to pass this bill.”
Conaway acknowledges that when it comes to crop insurance and other major agricultural elements of the farm bill, the House’s version doesn’t aim to make major reforms. Instead, he wants to preserve and protect what’s in place.
“I’m in the meeting with the president and unprovoked he says, 'Conaway, you're going to be crop insurance better?’” said Conaway. “I said, Mr. President, we really don't mess with it.' He said, ‘No, I want it great. I want crop insurance to be better.’”
Peterson said a farm bill that’s status quo for farm programs may not be adequate in the low price environment today.
“We have survived the last three years with relatively low prices, because we've had significant yields,” said Peterson. “We keep getting by, but I have a concern that the safety net as there is not adequate, but we don't have any money.”
One sector that is struggling to survive below break-even prices is the dairy industry, an industry with a strong presence in Peterson’s home state. Changes to dairy got a head start in bipartisan legislation passed earlier this year.
“The dairy portion got an additional $800 million in the disaster bill,” said Conaway. “What Peterson wanted to do was some fine tuning with that and I said, ‘fine, do what you want, but just keep it within the money that's there.’ And he did that. So, the changes are Peterson's changes. He voted no by the way so I'm not sure how he justifies that.”
Peterson acknowledges he wrote the language, and it’s language that he says will fix some of the issues created not only in the 2014 farm bill, but also in the disaster aid package that passed earlier this year.
“They [the Senate] raised it to five million pounds and spent a bunch of money on that,” said Peterson. “Because of that, they couldn't go to $9. That was a mistake. So, we need to fix that, and in the in the bill, this is my language what's in the bill in the House, fixes that.”
Even with the changes to dairy, Peterson says it was not enough for him to throw his support behind the House version. Instead, he’s more willing to take the Senate’s side in any upcoming debate.
“I've told the chairman and others that I will not support the House bill in conference because of the food stamp stuff,” said Peterson. “If they don't agree to take that out, then I'm not going to support what the House is doing, I'll support what the Senate's doing. So, you get into conference you've got three against one.”
It’s what happens during the conferencing process that could bring more debate to life.
“There will be negotiations going forward,” said Peterson. “I'm not naive enough to think that the bill that we passed on H.R 2 is what the president will sign. Nobody expects that. There will be compromises with the Senate that hopefully at that point in time, my Democratic colleagues - if they really want to reengage on SNAP - will reengage at that point in time to help us get what we want to get done.”
As House Ag Committee leaders stand on different sides of the aisle it’s the fate of the farm bill in limbo, as financial woes in farm country sink in.
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