Washington Insider -- Thursday

The House Farm Bill Work Begins

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

White House Formally Backs House Ag-Panel-Passed Farm Bill

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally supported the House farm bill, seeing it as a step toward "meaningful" welfare reform and a way to give farmers and ranchers certainty.

The White House noted changes the bill (HR 2) would make to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps). The legislation would impose new work requirements on between 5 million and 7 million SNAP recipients, tighten up eligibility rules and significantly expand work training programs at the state level.

"The administration believes that work reforms like those in HR 2 are a critical component of any multi-year farm bill reauthorization," the White House OMB said in a statement of administration policy. It said advisers would recommend President Donald Trump sign the bill in its current form. It said that Trump has made "modernization" of the country's "antiquated welfare system a priority." It added that the bill, “by including strong work requirements for able-bodied participants in SNAP, HR 2 takes a major step toward the president’s vision of welfare reform.”

However, the administration also lamented that the bill does not control spending more or reform food aid programs.


EPA To Ask Public Comment on RIN Credits

The topic of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) will be noted in the coming Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes its proposals in coming weeks.

EPA will ask for public comment on whether and how to boost the transparency of RINs. However, indications are it will not be seeking public comment on the potential changes to the program that the administration is reportedly pursuing on exported ethanol or year-round sales of E15.

The request on RIN transparency will be part of a proposed slate of 2019 biofuel requirements (2020 for biodiesel) now being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The proposal is expected to be formally issued in June or early July.


Washington Insider: The House Farm Bill Work Begins

Work on the farm bill version passed by the House Ag Committee along strict party lines is underway. The House Rules Committee finalized their part of the effort, agreeing on a package of amendments that the chamber will consider.

But as the House action takes place, the measure has been sent forward to the House floor while House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, continues the search for votes to enable the bill to make it through the chamber.

Already this bill has emerged as an "odd duck" when it comes to farm policy. Not that it contains some huge shifts in farm policy or major changes to farmer safety net programs, but that it has arrived on the House floor with no Democratic support. That stands in long contrast to a history of bipartisanship that has been a hallmark of farm legislation.

And politics is the culprit on both sides of the aisle. Conaway for his part has lamented that he has no Democratic support for the bill. That is focused on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions in the bill, including a work requirement for recipients or having them prove they are part of a job training effort.

That drew a sharp rebuke and withdrawal from the process by panel Democrats. They have taken their cues, it is assumed, from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has called on her members not to vote for the package. The indications are their opposition to the SNAP provisions happens to coincide with an undercurrent in the coming elections that Democrats believe will sweep them into control of the House. That would put them in position to put more of their stamp on the House farm bill.

But interestingly, Democrats are expected to actually help out Rep. Conaway in his bid to turn back the amendment from Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., that would make major changes to the U.S. sugar program. It is one of the amendments cleared by the House Rules Committee to be considered for the bill.

Foxx insists she has altered provisions in the bill that would make it less onerous or that she says she hopes will broaden support for the effort. She fell just eight votes shy of getting similar legislation in the 2014 Farm Bill.

But interestingly, while House Ag Committee Ranking Democrat Collin Peterson, D-Minn., says he will still vote against the overall farm bill in the House, he will help defeat the Foxx amendment. Peterson has a lot of sugar growers in his Minnesota congressional district that runs up the western side the state to the U.S.-Canadian border.

That he will help defeat an amendment that his sugar-growing constituents oppose but still oppose the overall bill just underscores how political this farm bill has become. It is a disappointing state of affairs for U.S. agriculture that politics has now invaded one of the historically bipartisan pieces of legislation that Congress typically considers.

This goes to the overall deterioration of bipartisanship in Washington that has become an increasing crescendo in recent years. This rising tide is one that does not serve U.S. agriculture well and needs to be watched as other issues take shape in the weeks and months ahead, including trade and more, Washington Insider believes.


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(GH/BAS)