House Republican leaders hope to pass a farm bill this week over likely unified Democratic opposition but GOP members head into the debate with divisions over critical amendments over sugar policy, crop insurance and other issues.
The House Rules Committee will go a long way toward deciding the fate of the bill when it meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday to decide which of the 103 amendments that have been filed will be allowed for debate.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway has been pushing Rules to limit the types of amendments that reach the floor and working with leadership to get support for the overall bill and to defeat amendments that Conaway considers poison pills. Conaway wants Rules to require amendment sponsors to agree ahead of time to support the bill on final passage.
Conaway expressed optimism he would get the support he needs to pass the bill although he was short of votes heading into the weekend. “We’ve got several folks that are still ‘reading the bill’ and coming to their own conclusions. We’ve got a lot of undecideds,” he said.
He said he was combating “a lot of misinformation in the public arena that we’re working through with various members as to what the bill does and doesn’t do.”
One of the most crucial amendments for Conaway that is almost certain to get debated is a proposal by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to gut the sugar program by ending domestic marketing controls and abolish the non-recourse loans that allow growers to forfeit sugar to USDA when prices slump.
Other amendments would attack the crop insurance program in various ways: tighten payment limit rules; cap the cost of the main commodity programs, Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage; freeze the Conservation Reserve Program; and tighten SNAP work requirements even more than the bill does.
Only two Democrats filed amendments, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
Conaway went into the weekend in the dark, he said, about how Democrats would vote on the amendments that attack farm programs. Conaway hopes that Democrats on the Agriculture Committee and from rural districts will oppose those amendments even if they vote against the final bill because of its expanded work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
One unanswered question heading into the debate is how much impact criticism from conservative groups will have on Republicans. The Heritage Foundation has been particularly critical of the bill, arguing that the SNAP reforms don’t go far enough and that the bill’s farm programs are worse than existing law. The bill eases payment rules while creating a new mechanism to increase PLC reference prices if commodity prices rise significantly.
“It’s critical that this farm bill makes major reforms to farm subsidies,” Heritage’s farm policy analyst, Daren Bakst, said at a briefing for congressional staff on Friday.
A letter that 300 state and national farm organizations and agribusiness interests sent to House members last week urged them to oppose amendments that would target crop insurance and the sugar program or impose “unworkable” limits on commodity program payments. Such amendments would jeopardize passage of the bill, the groups said.
“During a prolonged recession in agriculture, failure to pass a farm bill on time would undermine the financial security of America’s food, fuel, crop and fiber producers,” the letter said.
Also this week, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday will debate its fiscal 2019 spending bill for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The bill includes a second tranche of funding, $550 million, for grants and loans to expand rural broadband. Congress provided an initial installment of $600 million in the FY18 omnibus spending bill.
Also on Wednesday EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will be back on Capitol Hill, this time to face members of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls his budget. President Trump said on Friday that he still had confidence in Pruitt despite the cloud of ethical issues that has dogged the EPA chief.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, May 14
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue kicks off his fourth “Back to Our Roots” RV tour, this time to include stops in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. Through Thursday. The full list of stops is here.
12:30 p.m. – Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks at the National Press Club.
4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 15
3:30 p.m. – Senate Small Business Committee hearing on the state of small business in America SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, 482A Russell.
5 p.m. – House Rules Committee meeting to consider its floor rule for the farm bill, H-313 Capitol.
5:30 p.m. – House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2019 spending bill for EPA, the Interior Department and the Forest Service, 2007 Rayburn.
Wednesday, May 16
9:30 a.m. – Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, 124 Dirksen.
10 a.m. – House Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the fiscal 2019 Energy-Water and Agriculture appropriations bills, 2359 Rayburn.
10 a.m. – House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing, “Using Technology to Address Climate Change,” 2318 Rayburn.
1:30 p.m. – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on “Workforce for the 21st Century: Analyzing the President’s Management Agenda.” 2154 Rayburn.
3:30 p.m. – Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on railroad safety initiatives, 192 Dirksen.
5 p.m. – House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY19 spending bill, 2356-A Rayburn.
Thursday, May 17
The WTO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to vote on new director. IARC is the agency that classifies the weedkiller glyphosate as a probable cause of cancer in humans.
10 a.m. – House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on “Federal Impediments to Commerce and Innovative Injurious Species Management,” 1324 Longworth.
10 a.m. – Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC Chairman Joseph Simons, 138 Dirksen.
10:15 a.m. – Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, 406 Dirksen.
10:30 a.m. – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on “A Sustainable Solution to the Evolving Opioid Crisis: Revitalizing the Office of National Drug Control Policy,” 2154 Rayburn.
Source: AgriPulse, Philip Brasher