Senate Agriculture Committee leadership worked into the night last night to pull together a bipartisan farm bill to present to the committee. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on Thursday morning set June 13 as the date for their committee to review the bill and said text of the legislation would be made available sometime before that hearing.
The bipartisan announcement stands in contrast with the House where their version of the farm bill passed out of committee on a strictly party-line vote, only to fail on the House floor in a spat with the Freedom Caucus over an unrelated immigration bill. The House is expected to reconsider the bill yet this month, after a vote on that conservative immigration package.
While the House can pass a Farm Bill with only Republican votes, Chairman Roberts must attract Democratic support in order to garner the 60 votes needed to call the bill to the floor, meaning he can’t afford the partisan fights over food stamps and immigration seen on the other side of the dome.
“Our situation is so dire and with the trade policy having a question mark after it, farmers want predictability not uncertainty,” Roberts told U.S. Farm Report’s Tyne Morgan. “I've got to have 60 votes. We have to have 60 votes. All of us in agriculture have to have 60 votes in the Senate. You're not going to do that unless you reach across the aisle and you make it a bipartisan bill.”
Democrats in the House opposed the bill over work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. But Roberts told U.S. Farm Report that states already have the ability to set work requirements.
“Kansas has a work requirement, and so I don't think we're going to change that. I think we're going to have existing law, we'll make some efficiencies,” Roberts said.
Will President Trump sign a farm bill without work requirements for SNAP? White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short voiced support for the SNAP changes, but stopped short of saying it is a must-have for a farm bill.
"The president does believe strongly we should have work requirements when you're getting welfare benefits.” - Marc Short, White House Legislative Director
“One of the things that the president has advocated all along is able bodied Americans should be working, particularly when you see the economy as it is today with three point one percent unemployment and more job openings we've had in decades because people were hiring,” Short said. “And so the president does believe strongly we should have work requirements when you're getting welfare benefits.”
But he added, “The president's very eager to sign a Farm Bill. He wants to deliver on that for farmers across America.”
Meanwhile in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) today will be hosting members of his caucus insisting on a floor vote on immigration before the farm bill is considered again. House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway told U.S. Farm Report that it’s important for a deal to come out of today’s “family meeting” as he called it so Republicans can stay in the drivers seat of the farm bill.
“Republicans are in charge,” he said. “We shouldn't necessarily be using the Democrats to make that happen. So leadership's got a difficult role, a difficult path to walk and get clear on Thursday morning when we kind of see where everybody's at.”