Ag Policy Blog

Conaway Talks Trump Meeting and Need for Farm Bill Votes

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway.

The House will take up the farm bill next week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday.

The House returns for legislative work on Tuesday at noon for morning hour and 2 p.m. for legislative business. The House is scheduled to be in session through Friday.

No meeting is expected to occur on Monday.

The House Rules Committee has put out a notice that it expects to “grant a rule that may provided a structured amendment process for floor consideration of H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.”

The Rules Committee also said that amendments must be received by today at 11 a.m.

It is unclear whether House Republicans have the 215 Republican votes needed to pass the bill. The Democrats say no Democrat will vote for the bill because of the changes it would make to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

After a meeting with President Donald Trump and other agriculture officials at the White House Thursday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said Trump “has a real heart for the folks living in rural America” and is a “really strong proponent of the work requirements” for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries, but he did not issue a veto threat over the issue.

Conaway also said he does not yet have the votes to pass the bill on the House floor, but will spend the weekend trying to round up more.

Conaway’s office released the transcript of a question-and-answer session with him:

How’d the meeting with the president go today?

“Well, it went really well. The president is very smart and it became crystal clear right off the bat though that he has a real heart for the folks living in rural America, the folks in production agriculture, the men and women who grow the food that we eat and the fabric that we use to wear in our clothes. He wants to help them and he said that multiple times.

“He’s also a really strong proponent of the work requirements being improved in SNAP, strengthening SNAP because he believes that work is a pathway to prosperity and that our program should help people get on that path and not trap them in some sort of public assistance program.

“So, good meeting with the president, and covered a lot of things that he had on his mind: trade, some other kinds of things. He understands that there’s some turmoil in rural America as a result of some trade things going on but also understands that a good farm bill done on time would go a long way toward helping putting a little oil in the water in rural America.”

Do you have the votes yet to pass the bill next week?

“Well, we believe we’ll get there. We’ve got several folks that are still ‘reading the bill’ and coming to their own conclusions. We’ve got a lot of undecideds. I’ll be working with them over the weekend to get them to where they need to be, and get whatever information they need to so they’ll understand exactly what the bill does.

“A lot of misinformation in the public arena that we’re working through with various members as to what the bill does and doesn’t do. I believe we’ll be there next week and we’ll have it on the floor.”

Did the president offer a veto threat if there aren’t work requirements?

“No, he didn’t, we didn’t go to that level. I just asked him for help getting my bill passed. Sen. [Pat] Roberts [R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee] was in the meeting, he had conversation with him about what his bill might look like, but a little premature for that issue.

“We want to make sure what we can get out of the House that it’s supportive and he’s supportive of it. I asked him to use his prodigious social media array to help promote getting it out of the House and hopefully he will do that.”

A reporter also asked House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Thursday about whether the farm bill would come up and whether it would include a provision to change the sugar program.

Ryan replied that he would defer to McCarthy, on the timing, and added, “We feel good with where we are on this. I’ve long had views that the sugar program needs reforming, but what I am most interested in is getting a farm bill passed into law.”

A spokesman for the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy, which represents the Sweetener Users Association and its allies, noted that The Sugar Policy Modernization Act sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Danny Davis, D-Ill., has more than 80 sponsors and cosponsors in the House.

The group also said the Freedom Caucus is asking for sugar modernization to be included in the farm bill, and that the Republican Study Committee has said the Foxx-Davis legislation “would bring much needed reforms” to the “most egregious examples of crony capitalism.”

But sugar growers have been lobbying vigorously against the measure, and are urging members to vote against the final farm bill if the Foxx-Davis legislation is included.

The sweetener users have called the Foxx-Davis bill a “modest reform,” but the American Sugar Alliance, which represents the cane and beet growers, has said it would deny sugar growers loan benefits that other farmers get and “mandate that the USDA oversupply the sugar market with unneeded imports,” which would depress sugar prices.

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