FYI: Farm Bill UPDATE

Roberts, Stabenow, Conaway spar over farm bill

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., both blamed House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, on Wednesday for delaying the farm bill, but Conaway fired back that this was not the time “for finger pointing.”

Roberts said he wants the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees to sign a conference agreement on Thursday, but that Conaway still has lingering concerns with six titles, Politico reported.

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Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Roberts made it clear he thinks Conaway is the problem.

“I am very troubled by the fact that we have agreement among three but we can’t get the fourth one.” Roberts said, referring to Stabenow and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., as the other two in his camp.

“I understand the blood pressure and tremendous interest and backing in all the work that the distinguished chairman over at the House has done,” Roberts said of Conaway.

“I enjoy working with him, he’s a good man; but we can’t do this with saying, ‘OK, we’ve got everything tied down,’ only to find out that we have counter-proposals four or five days later. We just have to come to a conclusion.”

Roberts added that he believes the Senate bill makes sufficient adjustments to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, pointing to provisions intended to crack down on fraud. The House bill that was passed with only Republican votes contains stiffer work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries that Roberts and Stabenow have said will never pass the Senate.

Sara Wyant of Agri-Pulse said at a Farm Foundation event Wednesday that Roberts told her he is “pleased” with progress on resolving a conflict between the Senate and the House over a House proposal to take budget authority used to make payments to farmers who have planted cropland to grass and use it to allow farmers in areas of persistent drought to update yields in order to get higher farm subsidy payments.

Farmers who chose to plant their land to grass have gotten the payments since passage of the 1996 farm bill that Roberts authored when he was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Environmentalists say that the provision is important to keep farmers from replanting fragile land to crops, but Conaway’s staff has disagreed with that analysis.

Earlier, Stabenow said that she too wanted to reach an agreement this week and blamed Conaway for being intransigent, Politico reported.

“We’re ready. We’re hopeful,” Stabenow told Politico. “I think we’re close if the House wants to get a farm bill.”

“We have to know whether or not the chairman in the House wants to get it done,” she added, referring to Conaway. “We can certainly get it done.”

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Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas

Conaway told The Hagstrom Report in an email, “Pat is clearly under a lot of pressure. I’ve said for months that we needed to be making more progress — and that SNAP was not the main hold up.”

“Now the work has piled up (i.e we just got their counter offer last night after waiting eight days) and he’s clearly feeling the pressure. We can still get this done. BUT, now it the time for action … not for finger-pointing. I’m keeping my eye on the ball.”

Conaway also said he was not sure that Roberts, Stabenow and Peterson were all in agreement, Politico reported. Roberts and Stabenow indicated they are, and Peterson has said for months that he could support the Senate bill.

Peterson has avoided the press this week, pointing out that he is not in charge. He is likely to take over the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee in January, however, when Democrats take control of the House.

McConnell: Farm bill absolutely must be completed in lame duck session

Congress is nearly a quarter of the way through its post-election session with no apparent compromise on SNAP work rules or other disputes in the $87-billion-a-year farm bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that the farm bill is one of two items that “absolutely have to be accomplished” by year’s end; the other is a government funding bill to prevent a partial federal shutdown in December.

The “four corners,” the lead congressional negotiators on the bill, are expected to meet today, to keep the legislation moving, said an ag lobbyist. If they can agree on some points, staff workers could piece together elements of the bill during Thanksgiving week. Congress will be out of town next week and resume work on Nov. 26.

House Republicans are pressing for stricter work requirements and changes to eligibility rules for food stamp recipients. Proponents, such as House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway, say work requirements will move able-bodied adults into jobs and start them up the employment ladder. Not so, says the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its review of work requirements for federal welfare “suggests that these policies would harm millions of individuals and families, more of whom face significant obstacles to employment, while producing few lasting gains in employment.”

“Government certainly has a role to play in creating pathways to work for individuals who face significant employment barriers, but taking their food, healthcare, and housing assistance away is not the path forward,” said the CBPP.

Mathematica Policy Research examined two House GOP proposals to change the way benefits are calculated. It said that one, involving how to account for utility costs, would mean an average loss of $54 to $79 in monthly food stamps for 4 to 5 percent of SNAP households, and would push more households below the poverty line. The other proposal, which would allow a larger earnings deduction for SNAP participants, would mean a $10-a-month increase in benefits for 20 percent of SNAP households.

Jay Vroom, former chief executive of the trade group CropLife America, put the chance of farm bill enactment this year at 65 percent, reported Delta Farm Press. “I think we have a pretty good chance of getting the bill done while Republicans are still in charge,” Vroom said at the Southern Crop Production Association meeting on Tuesday. Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller said, “I think the changes to the SNAP program [proposed by House Republicans] will not be in” the final version of the farm bill.

House Republicans elected Kevin McCarthy of California as their leader for the new session of Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan will retire at the end of the year. Ryan has been an advocate of stricter SNAP work requirements, as has Steve Scalise, who will be the No. 2 GOP House leader next year.



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