WASHINGTON – Congressional lawmakers reached an “agreement in principle” on the 2018 Farm Bill.
“We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill. We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as CBO scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible,” according to a joint statement from House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Members Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan).
Members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee failed to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the farm bill before the Agricultural Act of 2014 expired Sept. 30. There were no interruptions in crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but 39 programs lost authorization and funding on Oct. 1, and other programs under the purview of the farm bill were set to expire at the end of December without new legislation.
A dispute over forestry management measures emerged as a last-minute holdup to completing a compromise farm bill. Earlier, it was the insistence of House Republicans on imposing more stringent work requirements on recipients of SNAP that stood out as the most contentious disagreement to be resolved. But Senator Stabenow indicated the House-Senate farm bill conference committee had reached an agreement on SNAP she said she could support.
There were a few additional issues to iron out, Stabenow acknowledged, including what should be the limits on federal farm program payments.
Indications were the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, who lead the farm bill conference committee, referred the dispute on forestry management provisions as contained in the House farm bill to the leaders of the Senate and House — i.e. to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — for a decision on how to proceed.
The forestry provisions in the House farm bill emerged as a major issue in the wake of the horrific and fatal wildfires that raged across California in recent weeks. President Trump weighed in on Nov. 20, saying the farm bill should include the forestry management provisions in the House version.
Republican negotiators asserted the provisions would enable the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to more aggressively arrange for controlled burns and other forest thinning efforts while opponents said recently enacted authorities relating to forest management should be employed before new authorities are sought. Environmental groups said the provisions would exempt some forest projects from environmental analysis and loosen oversight of the Endangered Species Act.
The resolution of the forestry management dispute as well as other details of the compromise farm bill were yet to be revealed.
Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), who is a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, said the final measure includes improvements in farm safety net programs and new investments in protecting animal health.
“We’re glad to report that this bill fully protects and preserves crop insurance, the number one priority we heard from Kansans and has nearly everything Kansans asked for in Title One safety net programs,” Marshall said. “We have worked around the clock to produce a strong five-year bill, and we look forward to seeing the final version reach the President’s desk by Christmas.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall applauded news of the agreement in principle saying, “The 2018 farm bill emerging from the conference committee is good news for farmers amid a prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy. Chairmen Roberts and Conaway and Ranking Members Stabenow and Peterson made the bill a priority for this Congress, and all Americans — farmers and consumers — are better off for it.
“Continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers,” Duvall continued. “These programs will help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face. Additionally, the bill continues to help low-income children, families, seniors and military veterans access the high-quality foods produced by farm families.”