WASHINGTON (DTN) -- While committee leaders working on the farm bill stress bipartisanship, their plans for the legislation right now hinge on the partisan fight over the debt ceiling and the expected House vote this week over its plan to cut spending and force President Joe Biden to negotiate with House Republican leaders over debt and spending levels.
The White House on Tuesday officially declared Biden would veto the House bill -- the Limit, Save and Grow Act -- if it reaches his desk, though Senate Democrats have also made it clear the bill would not get a vote in that chamber either.
The House bill would force across-the-board spending cuts to domestic programs in return for raising the nation's debt ceiling. The bill would tighten work requirements for federal food aid, but also rolls back tax credits for a long list of renewable energy programs from the Inflation Reduction Act, including multiple tax credits for biodiesel, advanced ethanol and aviation biofuels. The bill caps future spending increases for federal departments such as USDA as well.
"The debt ceiling, we have to pass to get President Biden to the table because he's been just resisting doing that," said Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Thompson said he helped add language to the debt bill that would raise the maximum age of an unemployed single, able-bodied adult restricting their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from 49 years of age to 55 years age -- partly Thompson said because that would open up those older people to access job-training programs.
Members of both parties introduced bill amendments to remove or change provisions in the bill. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a critic of farm programs, offered an amendment that likely won't pass the House Rules Committee to remove the SNAP language in the bill, and put in a $125,000 cap on crop insurance premium subsidies. In an irony, freshman Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who lied about his job history, also offered an amendment to increase SNAP work requirements from 20 hours to 30 hours a week.
At least two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, and Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, introduced amendments to the House Rules Committee to remove the provisions of the debt bill that would repeal tax credits for renewable fuels. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., also introduced a similar amendment. Yet, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the House Majority Whip, told Politico this week that the debt bill will not be changed. That could make the bill even tougher to pass with the slim GOP majority.
Despite the rancor over the debt bill, Thompson said he didn't see long-term ramifications from the House debt ceiling debate spilling over to affect spending on the farm bill. "We'll thread the need on the finances," he said, indicating there are pots of money that can be reallocated to the farm bill.
"There are pots of money sitting around idle that haven't been spent," Thompson said.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, highlighted some of the demands and needs for farmers in his state, pointing to disaster aid for recent flooding, but also a push to increase funds for programs such as those that boost trade. Costa said negotiating a farm bill is tied to the debt ceiling debate. The two issues, he said, are "not directly, but indirectly connected."
Asked if Democrats would agree to some deal to tighten work requirements for SNAP, Costa said, "Well, the Speaker is attempting with his Republican colleagues to attach their Christmas list to the lifting of the debt ceiling."
Costa noted the arguments over finding ways to tighten eligibility for SNAP don't go away. "For those of you who have been in the reauthorization of the farm bill, this is always an issue and a debate we have every five years," he said.
While the farm bill likely will need an extension when it expires at the end of September, Costa said "I'm confident we're going to get a farm bill done in this Congress."
Leaders on the Senate Agriculture Committee seemed more content to leave the fighting over the debt limit to the House. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the committee, pointed to the budget sequestration debate a decade ago that even today still forces 5.7% cuts in payments to farmers. Right now, an across-the-board spending cut could require similar demands.
"When Republicans are talking about mandatory spending, they act like it's just food programs or Medicaid," she said. "But mandatory spending is also the commodity title, the crop insurance title, that's mandatory spending so when they start talking about some kind of across-the-board mandatory spending cut, we are still paying the price for the sequestration debate today."
Stabenow warned against the threat of default, adding that it would increase interest rates for farmers and consumers and hurt the financial reputation of the United States. "My message to Republican colleagues is don't default," she said.
Stabenow also defended the conservation, renewable energy and rural development money passed by Democrats in the Inflation Reduction Act last year.
"It was very meaningful what we did last year in terms of helping rural communities," she said. Stabenow added, "We have additional tools for conservation that our farmers want."
She added that the last Congress provided specific aid to help rice and cotton farmers in one of the final spending bills passed last year.
Stabenow is resisting a GOP pitch to take the $37 billion passed for USDA in the IRA and roll it into the farm bill, meaning those funds could then be shifted between other priorities.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also said Tuesday that he won't support a new farm bill unless it raises reference prices for commodity programs.
Boozman pointed to the importance of agriculture to the rural economy in most states, as well as the high input prices that are facing producers. Boozman noted reference prices for most commodities go back more than a decade now.
"The world is very different now than it was in 2012. Some of those are very adequate, some aren't. But we're gonna get them up to date, or I'm not voting for the farm bill."
Boozman also added he wants to make sure farmers don't have to be "climate friendly" to qualify for the safety net programs. "Certainly we're not going to try to tie our safety nets, our risk management that farmers desperately rely on, we're not going to tie those to being climate friendly," Boozman said.
Thompson, when asked about references prices, said he believes a raise is needed, but it will be challenging.
"It is something that has consistently come up, but it also is going to come with a dollar amount, too," he said.
Thompson and other House members likely will hear more about reference prices on Wednesday with leaders from various commodity groups set to testify in a subcommittee hearing.
"Debt-Limit Bill Would Repeal Biofuel and Renewable Energy Tax Credits,"
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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