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Farm Bill Update from Chairman Conaway

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) was a guest on Wednesday’s “Adams on Agricultureradio program with Mike Adams.  After failing to pass on the House floor Friday due to a tussle over immigration, Chairman Conaway discussed Farm Bill issues going forward in anticipation of the House voting again on the measure.

During the interview (audio replay here (MP3- 8:00); unofficial FarmPolicyNews transcript here) Mr. Adams queried: “Well, let’s talk about what happened last week. What was it like, after all the time and all the work you put into this farm bill and trying to get it passed, as you saw the votes coming in and saw it going down to defeat, what was that like for you?

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

Chairman Conway explained, “Disappointing, hurtful. Really disappointing on a couple of levels, Mike. We have a great bill, and it should have passed. It was not expected to get any of the Dems, so those votes not going up as yeses were expected—not wanted, but expected. But to have my Democrat colleagues cheer, and laugh, and point, and taunt us, those of us who voted yes, was hurtful to me personally, but that’s…I can get over that.

“But it also, in my mind, was hurting all those folks out there, and your listening audiences, who are dependent on good agriculture policy being able to help keep them in business, suffering through the economic times that they’re suffering through, that they know far better than I can explain, and then to have the Dems cheer on that regard was really disrespectful to some of the hardest working, most decent, caring people on the face of the earth, the folks in rural America who, quite frankly, a 20 hour work week is the second or third job they do to keep the farm alive.”

When asked about potential conversations he may have had with Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R. N.C.), who broke with the GOP on the Farm Bill over demands to vote on a separate immigration measure, Chairman Conaway noted, “It’s not up to me on that regard, unfortunately, Michael.

It’s between leadership and the Freedom Caucus, because I don’t have jurisdiction over immigration issues, and that’s where part of the deal is.

“I’ve had previous conversations, or Mark was previously quoted in the paper as saying there was nothing in the bill that would cause him to vote no, and so I’m expecting that when he and leadership get worked out whatever they’re going to get worked out that he will deliver the requisite number of votes to get this to pass.

We passed a rule yesterday that allows us to vote on the farm bill as is, HR2, any time between now and June 22nd, and so my push will be as soon as we vote on immigration, whenever that is, that the next vote will be the farm bill so we can get this done and be ready to begin the conference process with [Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kans.)], because I suspect he’ll get something done in June as well.”

Chairman Conway pointed out, “The first time since I’ve been in Congress we’re actually exercising a motion to recommit. That means that you just revote the bill that was voted on Friday. And so no, there’s no changes to the bill. We will bring HR2 right back exactly as it is, because we lost because of the…not the policy, but because of other issues being used as leverage, so it’ll be the same bill.”

“Well, if we’d gotten beat just on the bill itself last week, we’d have a different conversation,” Chairman Conaway said during the “Adams on Agriculture” discussion, and added: “but we didn’t. There are enough votes in the Freedom Caucus, led by Mark Meadows and the folks he’s negotiating on behalf of, that if they get what they need on an immigration vote, then I’m expecting him to deliver the requisite number of votes to get us to one vote more than the no votes, so we’ll get there.”

And on the issue of payment limits, Mike Adams noted, “Senator Grassley keeps pushing for payment limits. Mark Meadows has even brought that up from the Freedom Caucus. Do you feel you should have done something with that in your bill, or do you have any regrets on that?”

Chairman Conway replied, “Nope, not at all. We would have fought that off had they brought it to the floor.

With all due respect to Senator Grassley, he’s wrong. He’s wrong every single time.

“And we’ll continue to leave our bill as it is. But no, I don’t have any regrets at all.

“And the only thing I can’t do right now, Mike, is begin to negotiate with the Senate on what they ought to have, what we ought to have. We’re going to get our bill as is, and then Pat Roberts, who has to have eight or nine Democratic votes, his bill will be different from ours, and then we go to conference. But no, I’m comfortable that we need to get our bill passed as is.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Tuesday that, “Hundreds of people are getting farm payments without doing any real work, prompting Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to criticize the lack of farm-payment reforms in the House version of the farm bill.

“The senator pointed to a Government Accountability Office report on farm-program payments that was released Friday that pointed to people in general partnerships, joint ventures and other corporate structures who receive farm subsidies but don’t list themselves as providing any farm labor.

“‘The glaring loopholes in current law is allowing people to qualify under what is termed, and this is a legal term, as actively personal management only,’ Grassley said. When people choose this option, they are saying they do not work on a farm, he said. ‘If they did you think they would choose that qualification option when they sign up.'”

Mr. Clayton added, “Grassley said he thinks the Senate Agriculture Committee will advance a bill in June. If a farm bill isn’t conferenced and get a final vote by early August, the senator thinks it would be more likely that there would be an extension of the 2014 farm law.”

Meanwhile, the Omaha World-Herald editorial board indicated this week that, “This mishandling of key legislation [the Farm Bill] comes at a time when farm income nationwide has plummeted in recent years, when drought is hammering parts of the Southwest and the southern Plains and when the Trump administration’s trade policies have spurred major uncertainties for U.S. agricultural exports.

“2018 Farm Sector Income Forecast,” February 7, 2018 (USDA-ERS).

“This is a crucial time, in other words, for our national legislature to develop consensus so that the farm bill, adjusted and renewed every five years, can once again move forward. Instead, lawmakers allowed the discussion to be dominated by divisive debates over food stamp requirements and immigration policy, with the substance of the farm bill shoved into the corner.”

And The Des Moines Register editorial board stated in Wednesday’s paper that, “The U.S. House of Representatives cannot manage to renew the farm bill, the country’s most important agriculture and food assistance legislation, without turning it into a game of partisan politics.”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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