WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators hammering out a compromise farm bill on Nov. 29 announced that they have reached an agreement in principle on the bill they will submit to both houses of Congress for their approval.
In a joint statement, House and Senate agriculture committee chairmen K. Michael Conaway of Texas and Pat Roberts of Kansas, and ranking members Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said, “We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 farm bill. We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as Congressional Budget Office scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible.”
A dispute over forestry management measures emerged as a last-minute holdup to completing a compromise farm bill. Earlier, it was the insistence of House Republicans on imposing more stringent work requirements on recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits that stood out as the most contentious disagreement to be resolved. But Senator Stabenow indicated the House-Senate farm bill conference committee had reached an agreement on SNAP she said she could support.
The absence of the House work requirement provision was expected to increase the likelihood of passage by the Senate but threatened putting the bill in peril in the House.
There were a few additional issues to iron out, Ms. Stabenow acknowledged, including what should be the limits on federal farm program payments.
Indications were the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, who lead the farm bill conference committee, referred the dispute on forestry management provisions as contained in the House farm bill to the leaders of the Senate and House — i.e. to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — for a decision on how to proceed.
The forestry provisions in the House farm bill emerged as a major issue in the wake of the horrific and fatal wildfires that raged across California in recent weeks. President Donald Trump weighed in on Nov. 20, saying the farm bill should include the forestry management provisions in the House version.
Republican negotiators asserted the provisions would enable the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to more aggressively arrange for controlled burns and other forest thinning efforts while opponents said recently enacted authorities relating to forest management should be employed before new authorities are sought. Environmental groups said the provisions would exempt some forest projects from environmental analysis and loosen oversight of the Endangered Species Act.
The resolution of the forestry management dispute as well as other details of the compromise farm bill were yet to be revealed.
At the same time, one member of the farm conference committee, Representative Roger Marshall of Kansas, said, “We’re glad to report that this bill fully protects and preserves crop insurance, the No. 1 priority we heard from Kansans, and has nearly everything Kansans asked for in Title I safety net programs. We have worked around the clock to produce a strong five-year bill, and we look forward to seeing the final version reach the president’s desk by Christmas.”
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, applauded news of the agreement in principle saying, “The 2018 farm bill emerging from the conference committee is good news for farmers amid a prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy. Chairmen Roberts and Conaway and Ranking Members Stabenow and Peterson made the bill a priority for this Congress, and all Americans — farmers and consumers — are better off for it.
“Continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers,” Mr. Duvall continued. “These programs will help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face. Additionally, the bill continues to help low-income children, families, seniors and military veterans access the high-quality foods produced by farm families.”