The House Agriculture Committee today marked up HR2, the 2018 Farm Bill, and sent it to the full U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, asked his colleagues to vote to send the bill forward, even though many expressed disappointment in how the bill was written. Lucas, who chaired the House Agriculture Committee from 2011-15, said the farm bill never passed the committee in 1996. In 2014, 218 House members didn’t support the farm bill, he said.
“Let’s move forward, let’s keep working,” Lucas said. “Let’s get . . . to the next step.”
The majority of committee members agreed with Lucas, voting to advance the bill from committee.
“Today’s vote was about America’s farmers and ranchers,” said committee chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, in a statement. “It was about a better future and greater opportunities for SNAP recipients. It was about fulfilling an obligation to lead, rather than standing on the sidelines.”
The bill has exposed a partisan divide in the traditionally nonpartisan committee, with both sides trading barbs.
“I’m disappointed that my Democrat colleagues have turned their backs on America’s heartland – that they’ve chosen partisan politics over the three years of bipartisan work in this committee,” Conaway said. “Democrats halted talks over their objection to requiring work-capable adults to either find employment or receive free training for 20 hours per week.”
Ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the bill was flawed and the result of a “bad and nontransparent process.”
“More than nine months ago, we began discussions on a bipartisan farm bill,” Peterson said. “I saw this process as a way to work collaboratively and produce a work product where so many in this town have fallen victim to politics. We wanted to get to a bipartisan bill. In our discussions, we were able to find common ground on quite a few areas but, as anyone who has been through this before knows—and I’ve been through a few farm bills—nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
He highlighted four areas of concern:
- Repeal of the broad-based categorical eligibility;
- Severing the link with the low-income home energy assistance program
- Creating a vast new state system of employment and training mandates
- Child support piece
“I didn’t walk away. We didn’t walk away. We were pushed away by an ideological fight I repeatedly warned the chairman not to start,” Peterson said.
Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who served in Congress in the 1970s before returning to in the 2010s, said when he was in Congress in the 1970s, the committee process worked. Now, the committee members can’t even work and collaborate on the things they agree upon. Members are shut out of the committee process, he said, robbing them of the ability to argue and persuade others of the merits of their ideas.
“Real democracy is a lot of hard work,” Nolan said.
Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Penn., said no single party can write the farm bill alone.
Why include a work requirement?
Conaway includes a work requirement for people who receive a SNAP benefit. Under his proposal, most adults between 18 and 59 will need to work part time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training in order to receive SNAP. The plan budgets $1 billion per year to fund the proposal.
Nolan said the work provision is a good idea. Do you know the No. 1 reason people are unemployed? They can’t pass a drug test. Second, they can’t read and write. This issue should be dealt with in the labor committee, not the ag committee, he said.
“There is not a single person in this room or my caucus that doesn’t recognize and appreciate the role of work as a pathway out of poverty,” he said. “What I can’t support though is a waste of billions on a program that is entirely untested.”
This bill will increase administrative burdens and kick thousands of working families out of SNAP, said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., while creating an untested and underfunded massive new bureaucracy.
“How could anybody in good conscience vote for this?” McGovern asked.
“I left today’s markup with more questions than answers,” said Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware. “I have serious concerns about the inflexible work requirements imposed on families receiving SNAP, the untested workforce training bureaucracy, and the cuts to conservation programs.”
Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., said she feels the bill is focused on “my people.” New Hampshire is third in the nation in deaths from drug overdoses and there are children going hungry because their parents are unable to work.
“This bill is cruel and I will not vote for it,” Kuster said.
What are ag groups saying about the bill?
"NCGA is pleased the bill restores full funding to the Market Access and Foreign Market Development Programs and makes administrative reforms to the revenue-based Agriculture Risk Coverage Program (ARC), which are welcome provisions for corn farmers facing uncertain times,” said North Dakota farmer Kevin Skunes, NCGA president. “NCGA also appreciates the bill's expansion of grower participation in working lands conservation programs and the research title's funding for the phenotyping initiative.”
“ASA continues to support completing the farm bill process as soon as possible this year to provide the long-term certainty farmers and ranchers need in the face of low farm prices and the volatile outlook for agricultural trade,” said ASA President John Heisdorffer, a soybean farmer from Keota, Iowa. “After today’s committee action, we hope sufficient votes can be found to pass a bill on the House floor in the coming weeks. However, we are concerned by the absence of bipartisan support for the current bill, and encourage the House and committee leadership to work toward legislation that can receive the broad support that farm bills traditionally require.”
“So few amendments offered to such an important and wide-ranging bill can mean only one of two things: either members of the committee think it’s near-perfect, or the House farm bill process is deeply troubled,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and executive director of National Young Farmers Coalition. “Failure to pass a farm bill this year would be a significant setback for young farmers. While Congress sits in its committee room arguing, young farmers are putting everything on the line to grow food for the nation. Farmers need members of Congress to back them up and support the programs that make a difference. We appreciate that the draft House bill addresses some of the challenges that young farmers now face, but it also eliminates programs that they rely on and further undermines their ability to compete.”
“The House Agriculture Committee had an opportunity to serve a spoonful of fairness into the sugar program, but failed to do so. The inaction is confounding, considering the sugar program benefits only 13 sugar mega-processors, with zero benefit for American consumers,” said Jennifer Cummings, spokesperson for the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy. “It’s time for the family farmer and the families that depend on manufacturing workers to be at the center of the conversation around agriculture policy in this country. We look forward to a robust floor debate so members of the House have an opportunity to modernize the sugar program.”
“The 2018 Farm Bill is ready for debate and amendments a mere six days after its introduction. A vote by the full House of Representatives is expected to soon follow. This is great news for farmers and ranchers everywhere. H.R. 2 – The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 - takes us one step closer to bringing certainty to families who face the toughest farm economy in more than a decade,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.
“The SCFBA (Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance) appreciates House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway for recognizing the importance of specialty crops in this initial legislation, which includes baseline funding of specialty crop programs included in the 2014 Farm Bill,” said Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President, United Fresh Produce Association. “However, the Alliance urges the House to enhance the bill by increasing the investment in specialty crop priorities -- such as fully funding the TASC program, increasing funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Alliance’s policy recommendations throughout the bill.”
“This bill is wholly inadequate for providing family farmers with the resources they need to endure the worst decline in the farm economy in decades,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Congressional leadership’s directive to withhold any additional support has hamstrung the committee’s ability to address the six-year, 50% drop in net farm income. This bill lacks the improvements needed to provide sufficient farmer and consumer safety nets, it upends programs that improve sustainability, and it removes programs that aid the growth of fair and diverse markets for family farmers. Farmers Union is also deeply disappointed in the partisan nature of the House Farm Bill deliberations thus far. We urge members of Congress to make significant improvements to the bill prior to its passage.”
“Pork producers are pleased that the Agriculture Committee approved the 2018 Farm Bill,” said NPPC President Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio, and chairman of NPPC’s Farm Bill Policy Task Force. “We now need the full House to pass it soon and the Senate to follow suit. There are several very important provisions for pork producers in this legislation.”
"We want to thank Chairman Mike Conaway and the other members of the House Agriculture Committee who have worked so hard to craft this Farm Bill and to ensure that it protects the priorities of America's cattle producers,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Kevin Kester. “We'll continue to work through the Farm Bill process to make sure that it includes authorization and full funding for a Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank, as well as funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, research, foreign market development, and market access programs."