Do House Democrats Want a Post-Election Farm Bill?

Posted on 03/13/2018 10:57 AM

House Democrats currently oppose GOP-pushed SNAP reform language



Democratic House members including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are raising significant hurdles designed in part to stop a new farm bill before November elections, usually reliable sources inform. The opposition mainly centers on the Republican-pushed reforms for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) but election year politics are almost certainly a part of the equation.

Pelosi has reportedly made her farm bill thoughts known to key Democratic lawmakers.

House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) wants to soon unveil a draft of the new farm bill. Reports of combative Democratic opposition to SNAP reform language are widespread. Recent conversations between Conaway and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have been less combative, sources advise, with the two leaders meeting again today on this and other farm bill matters.

One of the reasons why it has taken longer than expected to unveil the draft House farm bill language is the time it has taken for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score Title IV, the nutrition title, with some contacts signaling getting a score was “at least twice as hard” as any other provision. The reasons behind the lengthy CBO scoring is the complexity of the coming SNAP changes, and the sensitivity CBO has to the topic because it was many billions of dollars too high in scoring SNAP costs during the 2014 Farm Bill process. The coming House farm bill reportedly has a “budget neutral” nutrition title.

The following are some likely GOP-authored reforms to SNAP:

  • 20 hour per week work or paid for training requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents for SNAP benefits.

  • Exemptions to work or training requirements will likely include (1) anyone not between the ages of 18 and 65 years old, (2) those with physical or mental impairments, (3) pregnant women, and (4) those with children 12 years of age or younger.

  • Exemptions allowed mean that around 80% of SNAP participants will be exempted, meaning up to 8 million or 20% or less will face worker requirements detailed below.

  • While some Democrats charge 8 million people could lose program guarantees under GOP reforms, proponents respond that would not be the case if they:

    • 1. Work at least 20 hours per week;

    • 2. Participate in a free Dept. of Labor worker/training program; or

    • 3. Enter a free Employment and Training (E&T) program which likely will be funded at five times the current funding level.

Not a single non-exempted person will be taken from the program if they meet any of the worker requirements,” one SNAP reformist said.

Some Democrats are charging the coming SNAP proposals would lead to “state bureaucracies” and would be difficult at best to implement. SNAP reformists say that is a gross overstatement, noting there will be a two-year phase-in, plus states will continue to have the right to exempt workers, with many of the current loopholes being tightened. Proponents also stress that states frequently contract with private vendors to aid SNAP participants in meeting worker requirements and other program provisions.

Republicans say they are pushing for more accountability and better structure for SNAP via simplifying the worker requirements across-the-board, with the three previously mentioned approaches to meeting those requirements.

Whether or not there will be a bipartisan House farm bill will depend on the position of Rep. Peterson, who can bring along enough Democrats including moderate Democrats, to help ensure passage of the bill. If Peterson remains adamantly opposed to the SNAP language once the draft bill is officially released and no further changes are made, the bill could still clear the House Ag Committee, but it could fail to garner the 218 votes needed in the House if all Democrats are opposed and enough GOP Freedom Caucus members join them, as was the case in the initial farm bill vote in 2014. But, one source indicates that the GOP House is poised to pass a Farm Bill on a party line vote if that is what’s required to clear the legislation.

If the negative House farm bill scenario unfolds, then the Senate farm bill would become the focal point, with SNAP provisions in that chamber's version likely differing from the House version. But that type of farm bill could have trouble getting 60 votes in the Senate and even if it does clear the Senate, that measure would have trouble getting cleared in the House without strong SNAP reforms.

That brings up the possibility of a one-year farm bill extension, which could be okay for House Democrats looking ahead at what could be favorable elections and giving them more leverage in writing a farm bill either in control of one or both chambers, or at least having more members than currently is the case. Also, a one-year extension would extend current SNAP provisions and thus protect the program from GOP-pushed reforms opposed by most if not all Democratic members. However, even a one-year extension of the farm bill would cost money because there are over three dozen programs without a budget base that would need to be funded, as well as other potential provisions.

Bottom line: Inking a new farm bill or even extending the current one, like most things in Congress, is not easy. Democrats are probably hoping a farm bill fails this year, without their fingerprints on it, in hopes that the issue can be used to beat up Republicans this fall as they did successfully back in 2012. Whether the GOP Congress can get its act together and clear a bill with or without Democrats is an open question, but indications are they do not intend to be in the same place they were in 2012 come this fall. Some would relish Democrats holding up a farm bill over a 20-hour work or training requirement because it would go over very poorly in farm country.
 


 

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