Farm Bill Nears House Passage

After Series of Amendment Votes, Immigration Could Complicate House Farm Bill

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
The House is poised to pass its version of the farm bill Friday after clearing out a series of votes on amendments most of Thursday evening. (DTN photo illustration)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House is scheduled to resume consideration of the farm bill at 9 a.m. EDT Friday, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, told reporters Thursday evening he believes the bill will pass unless the House leadership is unable to deal with the Freedom Caucus' call for a vote on immigration before voting on the farm bill.

Conaway said he is not a part of the conversations between the leadership and the Freedom Caucus, but that he assumes the leadership will work out the problem so that a vote on final passage can be held today.

But the prospects for a vote on final passage are not certain.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sent out a schedule for Friday that says the House will begin legislative business at 9 a.m. EDT and that last votes will be held between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., a very short period for all the House needs to do.

The schedule notes that the House needs to hold one roll-call vote on an amendment held over for Thursday and take up 11 other amendments.

The schedule also says the House will "complete consideration of HR 2," the farm bill, but it does not list a vote on final passage.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told DTN Thursday evening that there were rumors that the Republican leadership would not hold the vote on final passage due to objections from the Freedom Caucus, and might not hold votes on all the farm bill amendments.

After the House adjourned Thursday evening, Conaway expressed relief that the House had rejected a sugar program amendment.

Conaway had said that if the House passed the sugar amendment, he would rally against his own bill. He told reporters the fate of the sugar amendment was important because its passage could have led to challenges to other crops in the future.

The American Sugar Alliance, which represents cane and beet growers, cheered the House's rejection of an amendment to make changes to the sugar program by a 141-vote margin on Thursday, while sweetener users said the House had missed a major opportunity to reform an old-fashioned government support program that causes them to pay higher prices for a key ingredient.

The House rejected the Sugar Policy Modernization Act authored by Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-Ill., and Danny Davis, D-Ill., by a vote of 278 to 137.

"The Foxx-Davis scheme was designed to cut sugar families out of the farm bill and reward bad actors abroad," explained Texas sugarcane farmer Bryce Wilde. "It would've led to bankruptcies and job loss across the country, and lawmakers were right to defeat it."

"Big food companies spent millions lobbying to harm U.S. sugar farmers, but Congress saw this proposal for what it was -- an America-last sugar policy," added Curt Rutherford, a farmer and president of the California Sugarbeet Growers Association. "This vote came down to a simple question: Do you support U.S. farmers or not? And we appreciate the fact that so many members clearly support farmers."

Sugar producers noted they got a lot of support from other commodities, union leaders, bankers, accountants, free-market advocates, and even foreign sugar industries that export to the United States.

Conaway said he does not believe there are any "poison pill" amendments remaining that would lead him to oppose the bill or large numbers of members to oppose it. The House Rules Committee did not make in order amendments that would have cut crop insurance or imposed payment limits on farm subsidies.

Conaway still faces the challenge of passing the bill on Republican votes because Democrats are united in opposing it, citing the work requirements and eligibility restrictions it would impose on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The House also held roll-call votes on six other amendments before debating a few more and then adjourning for the evening.

The most important of those votes was on an amendment offered by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., to phase out farm subsidies.

Conaway said he was unaware that McClintock was going to offer that amendment, but when he learned of it, Conaway encouraged the House Rules Committee to put it in order because he believed it would garner a large vote to reject it and would put the body on the record in favor of the farm programs.

The House rejected McClintock's amendment to phase out farm subsidies by a vote of 34 to 380.

President Donald Trump also put out a tweet Thursday that seemed to indicate support for the House farm bill.

"Tomorrow, the House will vote on a strong Farm Bill, which includes work requirements," Trump tweeted. "We must support our Nation's great farmers!"

But the response Trump got ranged from questions about the impact of his trade policies on farm exports to discussions about the bill's work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries and looser rules on who qualifies for farm subsidies.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@njdc.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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Jerry Hagstrom