Washington Insider -- Monday

Immigration Fight and Farm Bill Failure

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

House Defeats Farm Bill as Conservatives Seek Immigration Vote

After dealing with a host of amendments, the final vote on the House version of the farm bill turned out to be a defeat via a 198-213 count, with 17 lawmakers not voting.

Democrats held to their promise that they would not support the bill in its current form over provisions in the bill that would make changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Even with some other changes to the bill that came about during the host of amendments that were considered by the chamber, in the end, conservative Republicans were the key to the bill failing to advance.

Conservative Republicans kept pushing for a vote on immigration legislation, with their push focusing on getting a vote on that area before the farm bill vote.

This is no doubt why House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, kept saying he was still trying to find the votes for the package right up until the last minute.

“We experienced a setback today after a streak of victories all week," Conaway said. "We may be down, but we are not out. We will deliver a strong, new farm bill on time as the president of the United States has called on us to do. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers and rural America deserve nothing less.”

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said the vote reflected Republicans trying to go it alone to get the bill done. "It’s unfortunate the Republicans chose to take this path, and it’s clear from their inability to get the necessary votes from within their own caucus that there are internal fractures they have to contend with," Peterson stated. "But this is a good opportunity for us to return to the table and fix this bill before we move forward. As I said in my remarks Wednesday, this job is too big for one party. Let’s come together and figure out a bill that works for everyone. We don’t have to let this process be held hostage by the demands of the extremes of our parties. We can and should take the time to get the farm bill right.”

From the administration, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said, "A farm bill is necessary to provide our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers with the stability and predictability they need. Our farmers feed the people of this nation and the world, and they deserve the certainty of a farm bill.”

USDA's McKinney to Lead Trade Mission to South China

An agricultural trade mission to the Southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen led by USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney is set to take place May 21-25.

McKinney will be joined by agribusiness leaders and officials from the Idaho, Nebraska and Virginia departments of agriculture, according to USDA.

"Mission participants will connect with potential customers and take part in site visits to learn more about doing business in southern China," USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) said.

FAS noted Southern China already imports an average of $8 billion worth of U.S. agricultural goods annually, with demand on the rise for many products.

Washington Insider: Immigration Fight and Farm Bill Failure

Washington’s toxic environment appears to have led to a fight over U.S. immigration policy and to the failure of a House version of a new farm bill on Friday, Bloomberg says.

The House’s $867 billion farm bill had only a narrow path to passage because Democrats opposed the bill’s work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Program. “That left the bill’s fate in the hands of a group of Republican lawmakers demanding new restrictions on legal immigration,” the report said.

When the conservative House Freedom Caucus failed to win an immediate vote on immigration legislation that its members favor, some of them joined Democrats to reject the farm bill. The measure is relied on by producers in many states dominated by Republicans.

Whether the legislation is revived, perhaps as soon as next week, depends on how – and if – the immigration impasse is resolved, with either a revised bill that could attract Democrats or a GOP deal on immigration.

The 198-213 rejection of the draft deepened divisions between the Freedom Caucus and other Republican lawmakers, especially those from rural districts. The vote also underscored the lame-duck status of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The bill actually included a number of lingering fights, including one over sugar policy. While it had already survived an attempt to revamp a sugar program opposed by fiscal conservatives, some lawmakers, with support from candy makers, unsuccessfully sought to eliminate production limits that keep domestic sugar prices higher.

With regard to the immigration fight, Republican leaders told Bloomberg that they thought they’d obtained support from the Freedom Caucus by agreeing to vote next month on legislation that would eliminate a “diversity” visa lottery and impose other limits in exchange for temporary protection for young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

But several Freedom Caucus members said they didn’t trust the party leadership to hold the vote and instead want it to take place before the farm legislation.

“We’ve been promised a vote again and again,” said Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and member of the caucus.

The caucus said one of its goals in blocking the farm bill was to force a vote on the immigration legislation before more moderate lawmakers can secure a vote on three competing measures using a discharge petition.

If at least 25 Republicans and all 193 House Democrats get behind the petition, that would force a vote on all four immigration measures. Despite Speaker Ryan’s opposition, 20 Republicans have signed the discharge petition so far, bringing the total number of lawmakers backing the effort to 196.

Conservatives argue if the petition is successful, the result might be passage of immigration legislation granting permanent legal status to the young undocumented immigrants, which would anger core Republican voters.

Even as some in the party criticize what they see as wasteful farm-program and food-stamp spending, the massive bill is considered vital by many rural Republicans and it’s supported by President Donald Trump who likes the work requirements.

The bill’s failure will affect many producers already worried about declining profits who have been disappointed by the Republican Congress and administration, said Representative Jodey Arrington, R-Texas. Current farm programs begin to expire Sept. 30 without new legislation.

"It certainly will leave a lot of ag producers scratching their heads about our Republican majority and moving these important pieces of legislation through the House,” Arrington said.

In addition, some Democrats see an opportunity amid the Republican disarray, saying that if Ryan were willing to eliminate the new food stamp rules, they could help pass a bill. "This is a good opportunity for us to return to the table and fix this bill before we move forward," said Representative Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

But throwing out the work requirements remains unlikely because they’re backed by Trump and Ryan. Instead, Republican leaders chose to try to get the bill through the House on their own.

The proposed House ag program reauthorization measure would shift some money from food stamp benefits to workforce training, while increasing the number of people required to comply with work requirements. Republicans say the requirements are needed to move food stamp recipients into jobs at a time of worker shortages. Democrats counter that the provisions would reduce benefits and increase paperwork without effectively getting people into the labor force.

Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 3 House Republican, said leaders would continue to seek to address Freedom Caucus immigration concerns to get the farm legislation passed. "The farm bill is an important bill. We’re not done with it," he said.

Any successful House bill would have to be reconciled with a Senate plan, which has yet to be drafted. Democrats hold more power in that chamber, Bloomberg said.

So, the 2018 farm bill debate promises to be as controversial as predicted. Most observers expect that a bill will be passed eventually, although it may be quite different than the one considered in the House last week. Also, the more visible the national issues like immigration and nutrition become, the more difficult it likely will be to predict both the timing and the outcome of the fight, Washington Insider believes.

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