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House GOP Farm Bill Passes; Compromise With Senate Next

Senate bill expected on the floor next week

House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway says the farm bill vote was about “providing certainty” to struggling farmers and ranchers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway says the farm bill vote was about “providing certainty” to struggling farmers and ranchers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Thursday passed, 213-211, the Republican-written farm bill that seeks to restructure the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a month after a stinging defeat when the legislation became embroiled in an unrelated battle over immigration legislation.

The vote “was about providing certainty to farmers & ranchers who have been struggling under a 5yr recession & about providing our neighbors in need w/ more than just a hand out, but a hand up,″ House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway wrote on Twitter after the bill passed. There was no floor debate.

The Texas Republican thought he had the votes for the bill heading to the floor but it was unclear at the time how votes on two unrelated immigration bills could affect farm bill support from conservatives. Conaway stood on the floor during the vote and looked around, he said, to make sure all his supporters had voted. He credited five to six weeks of talking to colleagues and shoring up support for the victory. The House voted on the farm bill after the defeat and delay of the two immigration bills.

Republicans who voted for the measure Thursday but had voted against it in May include Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, North Carolina Reps. Ted Budd and Mark Meadows, Ohio Reps. Warren Davidson and Jim Jordan, Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, California Rep. Darrell Issa, and Florida Rep. Bill Posey. Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry did not vote Thursday.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts congratulated Conaway minutes after the House vote.

The Kansas Republican and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan advanced their version of the bill out of committee on a 20-1 vote on June 13. They hope to get the bill on the floor next week.

The House and Senate Agriculture committees will be working to have a compromise bill ready to replace the current farm law, which expires Sept. 30.

Conaway said staffs from both committees could begin scoping out differences between the House and Senate bills quickly once the Senate passes its version.

“I would expect that to happen immediately,” he said.

[Fight Over Food Stamps Among Big Hurdles Facing Farm Bill]

House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson continued to oppose the farm bill Thursday along with all Democrats who voted.

“The only upside to its passage is that we’re one step closer to conference, where it’s my hope that cooler heads can and will prevail,” the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement. “The Senate’s version isn’t perfect, but it avoids the hardline partisan approach that House Republicans have taken here today, and if it passes, I look forward to working with conferees to produce a conference report both parties can support, which is the only way to get a farm bill enacted.”

As in May, the farm bill received no Democratic support because of provisions to reshape SNAP into a program that requires able-bodied adults who are not responsible for children aged 6 or younger to work at least 20 hours a week to keep their benefits. The bill would also tighten eligibility requirements and change the way monthly benefits are calculated. The bill would move money from SNAP to work-related programs.

The Senate farm bill steers clear of controversial changes to SNAP, formerly known as the food stamps program.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House farm bill will cost $430 billion over five years and $868 billion over a 10-year scoring window. The Senate farm bill would cost $428 billion for fiscal years 2019 through 2023 and $867 billion for fiscal years 2019 through 2028, according to a CBO report released Thursday.

From the Archives: Farm Bill Defeat Leads to Confusion on the House Floor

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Tweaking farm programs

Before its passage, the House legislation tweaked the main farm programs, the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage, which would improve the chances of paying participating farmers if market prices continue a multiyear decline or their revenues drop. The bill also authorizes and sets policies for agricultural research, conservation, nutrition, trade promotion, crop insurance and other programs.

In the May vote, the bill fell short on the floor after a mix of moderate Republicans and conservative Freedom Caucus members joined Democrats in voting against it.

Several members of the Freedom Caucus members, including its chairman, Meadows, voted against the bill in May to show their dissatisfaction with a deal offered by House leaders to finish the farm bill and then hold votes on immigration and border security legislation by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte. The House rejected the immigration bill Thursday.

The immigration bill contained provisions on agricultural guest workers that Conaway says are unworkable. However, he said he expects that new language to be part of an immigrant guest worker bill Speaker Paul D. Ryan,  has promised to put on the floor in July.

Earlier this week, Meadows said he would vote for the farm bill if Conaway and Roberts agree to look at concerns he has about the farm legislation. He did not specify what he meant, but the North Carolina Republican acknowledged that farm subsidies in the bill worry him. However, he said other Freedom Caucus member had different concerns.

In the Senate, Roberts said he would be willing to hear the conservatives’ concerns.

“I’m open to talking to anybody about the farm bill,” he said Wednesday. “Usually, you talk to any member of Congress or a senator about a farm bill, there’s about an 11-second attention span.

He added: “We’re in such a tough patch right now, with income down 50 percent, prices 40 percent, a trade policy nobody understands, and retaliation. So, we’re just in a bad place, and so to provide predictability and certainty to farmers, that’s the key issue. That’s what we’ll try to point out.”

Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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