U.S. lawmakers, at impasse on new Farm Bill, mull extension of old one

Source: By Humeyra Pamuk and Jarrett Renshaw, Reuters • Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are considering a short-term extension of the Farm Bill as talks over a new bill stalled, two Republican senators said on Tuesday, a move that would leave a critical heartland issue in limbo ahead of November congressional elections.

The bill provides funding for an array of key programs, including crop subsidies and rural development. The latest one, passed in 2014, expired formally on Sept. 30 after talks over its replacement broke down.

“Unfortunately, we are in a situation where it is stalled,” Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst said in a phone interview. “They are now talking about a short-term extension that would push this beyond the mid-term elections.”

A Congressional deadlock over the new bill would not likely go down well among Midwest farmers, who helped President Donald Trump come to power but are bearing the brunt of his trade wars, which have closed key export markets.

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley also said the 2014 bill would likely be extended.

“We are not going to have no farm bill for next year. At least that hasn’t been the pattern for the last 60 to 70 years. So we’ll reenact the 2014 farm bill like we did in 2013,” he said in a conference call.

At issue is a provision in the new draft of the bill that would impose stricter work requirements for recipients of food stamps. The House of Representatives passed the $867 billion bill in June with the tougher requirements under the food program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but the Senate version excluded it.

SNAP is used by more than 40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population, and its inclusion in the Farm Bill has long been used as a way to get support from Democrats who represent urban districts.

Trump accused Democratic lawmakers in mid-September of stalling the bill, saying the work requirements in the legislation were imperative.

The existing 2014 bill was also passed behind schedule, after extensive congressional negotiations and partisan fights over food stamps.

Stark differences still needed to be resolved before a new bill could be finalized and sent to Trump for a signature and Grassley said he could see no compromise solution if the House did not drop the SNAP provisions.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Jarrett Renshaw in New York, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien