Lawmakers detail farm bill plans, weeks of Senate debate

Source: Marc Heller and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters • Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2018

June could be a busy month for the 2018 farm bill in both the House and Senate.

Lawmakers yesterday laid out a scenario where the House farm bill that failed on the floor last week resurfaces around June 22, while the Senate devotes as much as three weeks of floor time to its own version.

The Senate Agriculture Committee remains on target to mark up its version of the legislation June 6, and floor consideration “could be pretty soon thereafter,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters.

With that timetable, Congress could have two farm bill versions ready for a conference committee to reconcile in July. But lobbyists following the legislation say they’re nowhere near assured a compromise bill will be worked out by the time the 2014 farm bill expires Sept. 30.

Hoeven, a member of the Agriculture Committee, said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has told senators to expect up to three weeks of consideration, with the floor open to amendments as is customary with the five-year legislation.

The last farm bill, debated in 2012 but not enacted until two years later, involved more than 60 amendments on the floor, Hoeven said.

Hoeven, chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said the Senate could take up the fiscal 2019 agriculture spending bill before the farm bill. The spending measure, marked up in subcommittee yesterday, is due for full committee consideration tomorrow.

“We really could go anytime,” Hoeven said.

In the House, the sticking point remains the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Republicans included new work-related requirements, which has driven away Democrats and caused some moderate Republicans to be skittish (Greenwire, May 18).

On the other hand, conservative Republicans who opposed the House bill in order to secure a vote first on tighter immigration rules could drop their objections now that they’ve been promised consideration of the immigration measure earlier the same week, Roll Call reported.

Conservation and environmental provisions aren’t a major obstacle in the House, although the Republican-written bill would cut conservation programs and ease environmental regulations on forest management, for instance.

The House version also contains an amendment to exempt Alaska from the “roadless rule” that limits timber operations in roadless areas of national forests.

The Senate bill isn’t likely to mimic those provisions, conservation groups say.

The Environmental Working Group, critical of many farm subsidies, is looking for any sign the Senate version will direct subsidies “to actual farmers who have not already earned millions in the marketplace,” and target conservation programs at practices that have the most environmental benefit, said the group’s vice president of government affairs, Scott Faber.

The House aims to take up the same legislation that failed; Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) has said it can’t pass without the SNAP restrictions.

A spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee, Rachel Millard, said voting on the same bill is the likely route but that “conversations are still ongoing.”

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters he’ll release a bipartisan bill ahead of the markup. He didn’t rule out the possibility of new work-related limitations on SNAP, saying the program is always subject to discussion in a farm bill.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.