Farm Bill Conference Talks Start Wednesday as Clock is Ticking

Source: By Chris Clayton, DTN/Progressive Farmer • Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The House and Senate farm bill conferees are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning in a Senate caucus room to begin formal talks on the farm bill.

Chances are high that the conference will likely lack the theater playing out in other parts of the Capitol with the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Brett Kavanaugh or the anticipated White House response to Bob Woodward’s latest book, or even another round of NAFTA talks with Canada.

It’s unclear if this will be the one and only official meeting. Farm bill talks have played out multiple ways in the past. There have been talks that translated into a lot of open conference meetings and there have been others that largely just included the principal leadership holed up somewhere in a Capitol conference room or closet.

Even outside of those elements, the Washington political reports on Tuesday focused heavily on how Congress will once again handle federal spending for fiscal year 2019, which starts Oct. 1. Politico and Roll Call suggest the risks of a budget shutdown looms. It’s more likely Congress will build the drama and pass a Continuing Resolution “CR” to kick the federal spending debate until after the Nov. 6 election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who put himself on the farm bill conference committee, noted there’s a lot on the plate this month.

“It won’t surprise you to know that I’m concerned about September,” McConnell, R-Ky., said last week. “We have, I hope, three conference reports on minibuses. I hope, a conference report on the farm bill. I hope, an up or down vote on a bipartisan opioid agreement. And the confirmation of Justice-to-be Kavanaugh. So, we have a full plate for September.”…

As CQ Roll Call noted, “There are only 11 legislative days this month when the House and Senate are both scheduled to be in session.”Senate in session 16 days in September, as well as 14 days in October before taking a break for campaigning and the Nov. 6 election.The House calendar overall only has 19 legislative days scheduled between now and election day. The last scheduled day in session for the House is Oct. 12, but House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., just might have to add more days into the work calendar.

Any rush to get a farm bill done may be slowed by the Trump Administration’s trade aid, which will pay at least some commodities more than producers would get from ARC or PLC payments. It may seem less urgent to get the farm bill done before Oct. 1 and it’s just as likely that the CR would include a farm-bill extension also. That will depend heavily on how much House lawmakers want to fight about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the farm bill talks.

The Senate will come with nine members on Wednesday — five Republicans and four Democrats — along with an 86-11 farm bill. The House side, which squeaked the farm bill out on a partisan vote, will have 29 Republicans, including 13 from the Agriculture Committee and a pair of Republicans from eight other committees with some level of jurisdiction over provisions in the farm bill. Democrats have 10 members from the Ag Committee and eight members from other pertinent committees.

All told, as many as 56 lawmakers could show up for part or all of the conference talks on Wednesday. If each took up five minutes to offer their takes on the farm bill, opening statements alone would take up nearly five hours. Even if opening remarks are limited to just members of the House and Senate Ag Committees at the conference table, the opening pontifications would last nearly three hours.

Still, at the end of all the opening remarks on Wednesday there should be a good idea of where the sticking points are going to be among the conferees. Beyond that, another key element will be whether conferees see any pathway to getting the farm bill done on time.

Chris Clayton can be reached at