Skip to content

House removal of speaker adds hurdle for new farm bill

Grassley says one- or two-year extension likely

House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson says removal of the House speaker would slow work on the farm bill: “Without a speaker, you can’t do anything.”
House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson says removal of the House speaker would slow work on the farm bill: “Without a speaker, you can’t do anything.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The farm bill could be collateral damage after the House removed Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a historic vote that may have “blown up any meaningful legislation,” House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson warned.

The ouster of McCarthy, R-Calif., on Tuesday raises a new obstacle for finishing a draft of a five-year food and agriculture bill. Sources said no House floor work and little if any committee work is expected until lawmakers elect a new speaker.

The House and Senate Agriculture committees had already missed a deadline to finish a farm bill by Sept. 30, when the 2018 bill expired. Leaders of both committees have set Dec. 31 as the new deadline for a final bill. They say an extension isn’t necessary if they can finish before Jan. 1, 2024, when 1940s farm policies of supply management and higher dairy and crop subsidies would start to take effect. 

Thompson said Tuesday night that he was unsure a farm bill extension, if needed, could make it through a distracted and divided House. Eight Republicans joined 208 Democrats in the 216-210 vote for a resolution by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to remove McCarthy as speaker.

“The agitators and the Democrats rule the day. In a mutual way, they’ve really blown up any meaningful legislation. I don’t know how you get a speaker with that coalition. Without a speaker, you can’t do anything,” Thompson said, adding that it could lead to multiple time-consuming rounds of votes for a new speaker.

Senate Agriculture member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, had said even before the House move against McCarthy that he was worried about a farm bill not being ready in December.  

“I have my doubts that we’re going to get a five-year farm bill [this year] and we’re going to have a one-year, two-year extension. The farmers will have their usual safety nets,” Grassley said on his weekly call with reporters Tuesday.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., will be House speaker pro tem until a replacement for McCarthy wins a majority of members’ votes.  The House recessed Tuesday night, postponing votes on two fiscal 2024 appropriations bills, the Energy-Water and Legislative Branch measures. House members will return next week to begin the process of selecting a new speaker.

The Republicans’ narrow House majority leaves any legislation vulnerable to a handful of defections. But even before the McCarthy vote, the House and Senate Agriculture committees faced challenges in moving bills as the session approaches its end and with fiscal spending bills still unfinished.

Thompson even had to maneuver to protect the farm bill from potential encroachment by amendments to the fiscal 2024 House Agriculture Appropriations bill on Sept. 28. After the House adopted by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., that would prohibit the Agriculture Department from administering checkoff programs funded by farmer assessments, Thompson requested a roll call vote and the amendment was rejected.

Thompson also worked to keep other amendments from being offered such as one by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., that would bar the USDA from using funds to provide non-recourse loans for raw cane sugar or refined beet sugar. The House rejected the spending bill, 191-237, with 27 Republicans voting against it.

Grassley said an extension to the farm bill would protect farmers but also said it would delay what he sees as improvements to policy in areas like farm payments to address agricultural producers’ higher operating costs for key supplies such as fertilizer.  He also said work on the Senate draft bill was moving slowly amid a disagreement on the Senate Agriculture Committee about reprogramming funds to provide increases in some farm programs. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over a 10-year window the baseline for a new farm bill would be $1.5 trillion, with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program accounting for $1.2 trillion.  

Grassley didn’t offer specifics on the funding disagreement.

However, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., differ on how to use nearly $20 billion in climate funds provided in a 2022 law for major Agriculture Department conservation programs.

They also differ on priorities for the farm bill’s commodity title. Stabenow would prefer to make more options available under the federally subsidized crop insurance program. Boozman supports crop insurance, but wants to prioritize updating reference price data to more easily trigger subsidy payments for producers of the 20 major commodity crops.

At a Sept. 27 hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she worried that the farm bill work was moving slowly and that “we do not have at this time meaningful progress on the farm bill.”

Stabenow responded that “we are diligently working on the farm bill. I’ve been involved in six of them. None of them, unfortunately, have ever hit the exact deadline.” 

In a Zoom call with reporters, National Corn Growers Association President Harold Wolle said Congress can deliver a new farm bill this year. Speaking before the House removed McCarthy, Wolle said he had concerns about additional obstacles that both the appropriations process and the farm bill could face because of the challenge to the speaker.

“We need to have a functioning Congress, and a functioning Congress needs to have an effective speaker. I’m still hopeful that we have an effective Congress and they get their work done and that we get a farm bill passed,” he said, adding that an extension could be needed.

“That’s not the preferred route that anybody wants,” he said. “We have the ability to make some improvements in this farm bill that would help all of our farmers.”

He said there is still time for the Agriculture committees finishing this year.

“We’ve seen examples in Congress of how they wait till the very last minute and then they are effective and they do get their job done. I’m not ready to give up on this farm bill just yet, and I certainly hope Sen. Grassley isn’t either,” Wolle said. 

Recent Stories

Strange things are afoot at the Capitol

Photos of the week ending May 24, 2024

Getting down on the Senate floor — Congressional Hits and Misses

US-China tech race will determine values that shape the future

What’s at stake in Texas runoff elections on Tuesday

Democrats decry ‘very, very harmful’ riders in Legislative Branch bill