Legislators Have Farm Bill Questions, Too

Published online: Apr 13, 2018 News Jonathan Knutson
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Source: AgWeek

U.S. agriculturalists wonder when the next farm bill will be approved and exactly what will be in it. Pat Roberts, Debbie Stabenow and Collin Peterson—who should be in the best position to know those answers—say they're wondering, too.

The three Congressional ag leaders, all farm bill veterans, met April 10 on Capitol Hill with members of the North American Agricultural Journalists. The group, which represents U.S. and Canadian ag journalists, held its annual convention April 9-10 in Washington, D.C.

Roberts, a Kansas Republican, is chairman of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee. Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, is ranking Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee. Peterson, a Democrat who represents a sprawling ag-heavy district in northwest Minnesota, is ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee.

Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Ag Committee, was invited to meet with the ag journalists, but he was traveling and unable to attend, his staff said.

Roberts, Stabenow and Peterson have a long history of working together to write and pass farm bills, the centerpiece of the federal government's food and agriculture policy. The existing farm bill, approved in 2014, expires this fall and a new one will be needed.

Roberts and Stabenow each said they're confident the Senate can and will approve a farm bill eventually.

"I'm anxious to get this done and moving in the Senate," Stabenow said.

Poor farm prices and profitability increase the need "for us to get down and do our business on the farm side," Roberts said.

But Stabenow and Roberts said the House, not the Senate, is the stumbling block — a point made even more strongly by Peterson.

He continued his ongoing criticism of a House Republican effort to expand work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Many Democrats, both in the House and Senate, won't support a new farm bill that includes expanded requirements, which threatens the longstanding urban-rural coalition that supports the farm bill, Peterson said.

Asked whether the House will approve its farm bill version that contains the controversial requirement, Peterson said, "I'm skeptical they (House Republicans) can do it."

But even if they do, it "will never become law. It's going nowhere in the Senate," Peterson said.

The House and Senate must reconcile differences in their respective legislation before the final bill becomes law, and Senate leaders have made it clear that they'll never agree to compromise legislation containing the requirement, Peterson said.

A bigger concern, however, is that the push for the new work requirements will alienate urban legislators who in the past reluctantly supported crop insurance and other federal programs important to farmers, Peterson said.