Ag Policy Blog

Senate Ag Chairman Signals Farm Bill Conference May be Slow

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

Both chambers of Congress come back to Washington this week, facing a conference on the farm bill, which the House and the Senate each passed in June.

There has been speculation both that the conference may move slow or it may move fast, but a statement a spokeswoman for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who will chair the conference, suggested on Friday signals it will take some time.

“Chairman Roberts looks forward to working with his House and Senate counterparts to provide certainty and predictability for America’s farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders as soon as possible. This work includes identifying common ground and working through differences in the weeks ahead. It takes time to get it right,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, told The Hagstrom Report on Friday “At this time, staff are working through the legislation and we hope to begin the formal conference as soon as possible.”

In a radio interview June 29, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the first step in establishing the conference is to get both chambers to agree to go to conference. The second is to appoint conferees.

But Peterson noted that once the conferees are appointed “the clock starts to tick,” and at some point the conference can be subject to motions to instruct from the floor. That means the House and Senate leadership won't want to start the formal conference process until they are well organized.

After the conferees are appointed, the conference begins with a public meeting at which members make speeches, Peterson said. After that he, Conaway, Roberts and Stabenow “get together with staffs and figure out how to untangle this stuff.”

Peterson noted that he believes the differences between the House and the Senate bills over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be the biggest issue to resolve. There are also differences over payment limitations and in the commodity title and conservation title, as well as the handling of smaller programs.

Allianz, the insurance company, said in its political newsletter Friday, “In the end, Republicans will need to pass a farm bill, both for the good of the country and for their political futures. Failure to do so could harm rural farmers and voters, who overwhelmingly vote in favor of Republicans.”

“With polls increasingly showing a very tough midterm election landscape in 2018, Republicans are unlikely to want to have a protracted fight over funding, especially with a summer recess coming up in August where they will have to spend time at home answering questions about tariffs and potentially a failure to pass crop insurance or opioid support.”

The Senate will convene today at 3 p.m., with leader remarks and consideration of nominations, with a vote at 5:30 p.m. on the motion to invoke cloture on the nomination of Mark Bennett to be a circuit judge for the Ninth Circuit.

The House will return Tuesday, going into session at noon and taking up legislative business at 2 p.m., with votes on the suspension calendar postponed until 6:30 p.m.

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