Stabenow: House GOP, White House forestry demands could bring down farm bill
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said late Monday that she and other congressional agriculture leaders are “very close” to finishing a new farm bill, but that last-minute demands from House Republicans and the White House to make changes to forestry policy could bring down the bill.
After spending more than 20 minutes huddled with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and their key aides on the Senate floor during a cloture vote on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Stephen Vaden to be Agriculture Department general counsel, Stabenow told The Hagstrom Report that she, Roberts, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., are “very close” to a final agreement but that there is “no white smoke” yet.
Then Stabenow added, “It would be very unfortunate if [the demands for forestry policy changes] brought down the farm bill … unfortunate for farmers and ranchers.”
Earlier Monday, a coalition of leftist and right-wing farm bill critics held a news conference in which they said they feared that the final bill would agree to the House provisions that would allow farmers’ cousins, nieces and nephews and their spouses to qualify for up to $125,000 per year in farm subsidies.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs, Environmental Working Group; Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic adviser, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Nan Swift, director of federal affairs, National Taxpayers Union; Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst, Taxpayers for Common Sense; Caroline Kitchens, director of federal government affairs, R Street Institute; and Alison Winters, senior policy fellow, Americans for Prosperity, all said the conference committee should reject provisions in the House bill that would allow more distant relatives to get benefits if they claim some role in the farm.
Swift said that assuming the conference report does not contain the SNAP work requirements that were in the House farm bill that passed only on Republican votes, selling a farm bill that eases payment limitations will be “a really, really hard task.”
But Sewell also acknowledged the political pressures following the midterm elections in which the Democrats won the House majority.
“As much as we want to help Trump’s base, we still have a base that is focused on reducing the swampiness of these bills,” Sewell said.
Asked whether the decline in commodity prices and farm incomes due to the trade war created a situation in which there would be pressure to make it easier for farmers to get subsidies, the representatives of the conservative groups said they all opposed the Trump administration’s tariffs that have led to retaliatory tariffs on U.S. farm products.
Hoefner said that at this point he has to assume that the stiffer payment limits in the Senate bill advocated by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, will be either eliminated or their impact reduced. The issue, Hoefner said, is the possible increase in individual and family limits.
Faber said that it is hard to imagine House Republican leaders “who have committed their careers to being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar” would want to bring the easier payment limits forward, but it is hard to know what is in Ryan’s “heart.”
The ultimate question, Faber said, is whether the incremental progress in past farm bills in reducing farm payment limits is going to continue or whether Congress will “go backwards.”
–The Hagstrom Report