Draft Farm Bill Conference Report Near

Posted on 11/17/2018 8:19 AM

Farm bill negotiators offering must-have compromises for reaching end zone

All major bills, including the updated farm bill, have phases, with bouts of spats and at times developments which seem to throw the effort off the rails. But just as soon as it looks like a consensus cannot be reached, leaders lead. This time it looks like GOP leaders in both the Senate (Mitch McConnell of Kentucky) and several House GOP leaders (including outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin) gave top Republicans on the Ag panels a directive to get things done. That and a tight lame-duck session close is when compromises on several thorny issues were offered and that appears to have the end zone clearly in sight.


A draft farm bill conference report could be ready Monday. “The goal is to finish this by Monday,” House Ag ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said. Senate Ag panel ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) concurred with the assessment adding, “If people want a bill, we’ll have a bill.”

Most if not all of the differences over food stamp provisions have been settled, with the House backing off its earlier insistence of work requirement language included in the House farm bill measure. Peterson told reporters that the House offer addresses SNAP work-requirement waivers, but that Senate leaders have not responded to the proposal. Stabenow questioned efforts to tighten restrictions on USDA waivers for states to ease work requirements for single able-bodied adults without dependents and to extend the length of time they can receive food aid. “We’re working through that,” Stabenow said.

Regarding food stamps, Peterson said, “We have work training. It’s been in the law since ’96. That’s not the issue... the issue has been what to do about waivers and there’s some tightening up on that a little bit.” Peterson, in line to take over leadership of the House Ag panel in the new Congress, added, “It’s a good bill. We need to get the damn thing done.”

House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) noted the four negotiators still need to get cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and then must sell the compromise in each chamber. “We don’t have a lot of time left,” Conaway said Friday. “I’m going to get a bill and I’m going to do the best sales job I can. The threshold is getting 218.”

Conaway said he’d like to have a majority of the current Republican majority vote for a 2018 farm bill but added that he would take a winning margin that included Democratic votes. Democrats voted against the House Agriculture bill because of the SNAP provisions, giving Conaway a razor-thin margin in a 213-211 floor vote.

Conference report details are lacking. “I don’t want to jeopardize anything. I don’t want to cause a buzz anywhere that causes people to go running to X, Y and Z try to try to unwind something. I want to get this deal done,” Conaway said, explaining why he would not discuss details. “This is now a House offer, not just a Conaway offer,” Conaway told reporters. “I’m tickled to death that Collin’s pushing to get this thing done now. He said he’s done that; his team has acted that way... That helps the momentum,” Conaway added. “Having it be a House offer and not just a Conaway offer is progress.”

The push for farm bill closure. “The Speaker wants it. McConnell wants it,” Conaway said, referring to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has an interest in seeing a conference report advance carrying his provisions to end restrictions on U.S. production of hemp. McConnell late last week said he had included the farm bill on his legislative to-do list for the lame-duck session.

Conaway added another incentive: time, or a lack of it. Conaway said the biggest boost to negotiations has simply been “the clock” running down on the lame-duck session. “Thanksgiving, Christmas, the end of the 115th Congress, the vote [on Election Day] last Tuesday — lots of things that got us to that point, where it’s like, 'Alright, let’s quit haggling over this and that and get this thing done,'" he said.


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