Ag Policy Blog

Ag Committee Leaders Remind Everyone They Are Still Talking

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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In January 2017, the day after President Trump was inaugurated, I was speaking about the farm bill at the South Dakota Corn Growers annual meeting. I was asked if I thought the bill would get done on time.

"No," I said with a chuckle. "That ain't happening."

I'm just four days away from being right, which doesn't happen that often. My only take here, since the beginning, is that Congress is prone to missing self-imposed deadlines and that's unlikely to change, even in the midst of the trade conflicts and low prices facing farmers.

And just as I started writing this brilliant piece of journalism embellishing on my forecasting abilities, I received different statements Wednesday morning from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees reminding us that they are still working and the one way to help farmers out of the trade debacle right now is the certainty of a five-year farm bill.

The four principals -- Agriculture Committee Chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Ranking Members Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., -- all met again Wednesday and released a single statement:

“Each of us is still at the negotiating table, and we remain committed to working together on a Farm Bill. Our conversations are productive, and progress toward an agreement is taking shape. We are going to get this right.”

Separately, Conaway and Peterson issued another statement Wednesday after meeting with Gregg Doud, USTR chief agricultural negotiator, and Ted McKinney, USDA undersecretary for trade. Coming out of that, Conaway and Peterson stated the best thing they could do to help farmers right is pass a farm bill.

“We know the angst in farm country right now. Between low prices, droughts, flooding, hurricanes and the retaliatory tariffs of our trading partners – there is hurt in the heartland," Conaway and Peterson said in a joint statement. "We continue to work with the Administration as they make progress on NAFTA and other trade agreements, but we also recognize that the best thing Congress can do to aid farm country is to provide farmers and ranchers with the certainty and predictability of a five-year farm bill. On that front, we will continue our work until a new farm bill is complete.”

According to DTN's Washington Insider column, Roberts had said this week that Congress will not clear a new farm bill before the current law expires September 30.

"I am afraid we are going to go past the September 30 date,” Roberts told reporters. “Miracles can happen. We are not giving up.” However, he said he did not want to talk of an extension as that would cause still-more delays in getting the bill done.

Roberts said no agreement is yet in place on work requirements and waivers relative to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) policy. “I think if we could get the waiver challenge behind us, working with the administration, that would be very helpful. If we do that, I think we could get ourselves to a farm bill,” Roberts said.

Yet, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom wrote in his column this week for National Journal that the four principals on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees "seem united behind the idea that an extension of the current farm bill would be a bad idea." Hagstrom quoted comments from lawmakers in radio interviews and emails resisting the idea of extending the 2014 farm bill.

The central issue remains SNAP and how much Conaway is willing to negotiate, while still keeping his GOP base on the farm bill. Conaway has said in interviews that he won't deliver a farm bill back to the House that would get more Democratic votes than Republicans.

Hagstrom notes in his column, "Now the question is whether Congress will finish the bill before the election or during a lame-duck session, or if it will have to start over next year, when Democrats appear likely to be in charge of the House and maybe the Senate.

Hagstrom added, Most bets are on finishing the bill in the lame-duck session after the Nov. 6 election, but House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said in radio interviews late last week that he believes Congress can finish the bill in October because the House and Senate will be in session part of the month." https://goo.gl/…

That plan could fail if Congress chooses to break for election campaigning in most of October rather than return to the Hill to vote.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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