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Farm Bill Outlook- Perspective From Chairman Conaway

House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway was a guest on Thursday’s Adams on Agricultureradio show with Mike Adams.  The Texas Republican provided his perspective on the status of Farm Bill legislation that was approved by the Committee earlier this month.

As the discussion (audio replay here (MP3- 12:00); unofficial FarmPolicyNews transcript here) began, Mr. Adams asked when the Farm Bill may be considered on the House floor, Chairman Conaway explained, “Well, as soon as I can get it there— we’ll come back…of course, everybody’s back home working in their district next week. And I’m hopeful that…the popularity of work requirements is so strong, 70% among Democrats, 90% among Republicans, a blend of about 80. I’m hoping my folks have a chance to hear from their people back home on what’s actually in the bill.

And then we’ll get back that first week of May, start the whip process, and in all likelihood it’d be that following week that we would be there. But I don’t think I can get the whip thing done and to the floor that first week we’re back, so probably the second week.

Asked if he anticipated any Democratic votes in favor of the measure, Chairman Conaway noted, “There’s no reason not to, when people actually understand what we’ve done. We had a good conversation yesterday with AARP, who came out against it right off the bat. They’ve had second thoughts as they understood what we’re actually doing and what they were misled. I’m hopeful that the more questions that get answered, the more opportunities we have to maybe show folks that hey, that’s not in the bill. What we’re being accused of is not in the bill.  The more of that that goes on, then my Democrat colleagues will say all right, we can…maybe we can work with this, maybe we can come back to the table, maybe we can suggest some changes or improvements to the program.”

Continuing on the prospect of bipartisanship, Chairman Conaway indicated that, “I’m hoping they’re going to be a part of the solution. I think Peterson’s got…recently been bragged on about being the most bipartisan member on the face of the earth. I’m hoping he burnishes those bona fides by coming back to the table and working on the farm bill, which is a way to prove that he’s the most bipartisan member on the face of the earth. And so I’m hoping he comes back to the table.”

With respect to securing the votes necessary for passage of the Farm Bill on the House Floor, Chairman Conaway explained, “Right now I’ve had good conversations with both sides of the Republican, you know, both ends of the spectrum of Republicans. I had good conversations with both of them. I’ve talked to the Main Street group. I’ve talked individually with the Freedom Caucus guys, many of them. I’ve gotten kind of a head nod from those guys that they don’t see anything in there right now that causes them to vote against it, so I’m thinking we’ve got the votes. But we want to make sure.”

Beyond the nutrition title, Chairman Conaway stated that, “All of that was negotiated with Peterson and the Democrats on the committee. They gave us a letter of 50 things they wanted in the bill. Some of them overlapped with what we wanted. But we addressed every single one of them.

Collin’s fingerprints are all over the non-SNAP title, so that really was bipartisan work, and we’re getting good marks across the board.

On a potential conference with the Senate, Chairman Conaway explained that, “I’m confident [Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) will] get a bill out and I’m confident that we’ll go to conference on that. I’m also confident that neither bill will survive intact, neither our bill nor their bill. It will be a blend, as we normally do. And hopefully that blend is better than either individual product that’s there. That’s just the normal way we go at it.”

“Design Issues in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Looking Ahead by Looking Back,” by Victor Oliveira, Mark Prell, Laura Tiehen, and David Smallwood. USDA- Economic Research Service, ERR-243 (January 25, 2018).

Mr. Adams then asked: “Can you imagine or can you foresee a final bill not having some reform to SNAP?

Chairman Conaway bluntly replied, “No.”

The Chairman then elaborated, “We’ve got stuff in there that’s just good governance…So yes, we’re going to have some changes to SNAP, and it may not go as far as what we’re going to, but I’m going to get this bill across the House floor because it is just good policy. We didn’t come at this and try to cut spending. We didn’t come at it wrongheaded. We came at it the right way, with the right heart. We’re trying to help people get off these programs, get their lives back under their own control, and who’s against that? Well, I guess Collin. So you tell me whether or not we’ll have the opportunity to reform SNAP and whether it’s the righteous thing to do.”

Meanwhile, in other Farm Bill developments, a news release on Wednesday from Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) stated that, “Today Sens. [Thune] and Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, unveiled bipartisan legislation they are advocating to be included in the 2018 farm bill. The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) Improvement and Innovation Act would improve the current ARC program by modifying the payment calculation and other parts of the program to improve its safety net potential. Currently, no similar legislative proposals to improve ARC have been introduced during the 115th Congress.

“By providing more equitable support prices that are reflective of the actual market value for all crops and using a 10-year market price average as a cap on reference prices, the Thune-Brown bill would take an important step toward ensuring farm programs are more fiscally responsible for taxpayers. The bill would also ensure that payments are not being made for base acres on land that is no longer being planted to commodity crops. Beginning farmers would, for the first time since 2002, have a new opportunity, based on planting history, to become eligible for new or additional base acres on certain farms that were previously ineligible or only eligible for limited commodity program assistance.”

Share of Commodity-Specific Outlays by Commodity. “Farm Safety-Net Payments Under the 2014 Farm Bill: Comparison by Program Crop,” Congressional Research Service (August 11, 2017).

An update on Wednesday from the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) indicated that, “The [NCGA] today endorsed legislation introduced by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage Program.

“‘The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) Improvement and Innovation Act will make needed improvements to the farm safety net, ensuring ARC can continue to be a reliable risk management program for farmers during times of depressed prices. Based on the recommendation of the [NCGA] grower-led Risk Management Team, NCGA is pleased to endorse this legislation and looks forward to working with the Senate Agriculture Committee on this measure,’ said NCGA President Kevin Skunes.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.

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