UPDATE: House & Senate Name Members to Farm Bill Conference Committee, Some Progress But Heavy Lifting Remains

US House Committee on Agriculture writing the Farm Bill.

On August 1, the U.S. Senate named the following members to negotiate the legislative discrepancies between the House and Senate versions of H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill:

Republicans

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY)

Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KS)

John Boozman (AR)

John Hoeven (ND)

Joni Ernst (IA)

Democrats

Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (MI)

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (ND)

Senator Sherrod Brown (OH)

Senator Pat Leahy (VT)

On July 26, the four bipartisan leaders of the U.S. Senate and House Agriculture Committees, namely Senate Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and House Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) met for a short period of time to show an anxious farm constituency that work has begun and solidarity exists to reauthorize the 5-year  Farm Bill by September 30.  The four leaders, aka “The Big Four,” met despite the Senate’s inability to name conferees to the House and Senate conference committee the week of July 23 as many expected.  Continued wrangling by Senators on issues relating to whom, and the number of Senators that will participate in the conference committee, and an issue dealing with an exemption from hours of service for ag truck drivers prevented the Senate from naming conferees.  Negotiations are continuing  over the weekend and the earliest the Senate can name conferees is Monday, July 30.

S. 3042.  passed the Senate Agriculture Committee, including multiple amendments, on June 13 with a strong bipartisan vote of 20-1.  The Senate adopted S. 3042, as amended on June 28 by a vote of 86-11.

The U.S. House version of the 2018 Farm Bill required two votes for adoption.  An unrelated issue to address U.S. immigration policy caused the House to reject H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act on the first attempted vote on May 18.  H.R. 2 narrowly passed the House 213-211 on June 21.

Both the House and Senate versions of the 2018 Farm Bill have been reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and each version of the legislation is estimated to cost $867 billion over the next ten years.

The U.S. House announced the names of 47 members to the conference committee on the 2018 Farm Bill on July 18.

Five Titles Mostly Worked Out

Staff negotiations have been successful in nearly resolving issues in five titles of the 2018 Farm Bill.  While those titles have not been officially disclosed we believe they include: Title III Trade, Title V Credit, Title VII Research, Title X Crop Insurance and Title XI (House) XII (Senate) Miscellaneous.

Negotiators will continue to work and iron out the differences between the two versions of the legislation.  But, in the remaining titles there are several different provisions that will likely prove to be time consuming tasks as the two bills are combined into a resulting Conference Report.

Major Differences

UPDATE:  Expanded work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries – This was perhaps the most controversial issue of the upcoming Conference Committee. The House version includes an expansion of the existing work requirements for able-bodied beneficiaries of SNAP.  It would require beneficiaries age 18 to 59 (current law is 18 to age 49) to work or do job-training for a minimum of 20 hours per week. The Senate version does not include similar language because passage of the Farm Bill in the Senate requires Democratic votes and no Democrats support expanding work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries.  The same will hold true for the Conference Report when it returns to the US Senate and if it contains expanded work requirements, it will not pass in the Senate. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), a stalwart for welfare reforms has signaled to the Big 4 he may relent on the stronger work requirements for SNAP in the House version of the Farm Bill due to the pressing situation and uncertainties faced by many agriculture producers.

Commodity programs – The House & Senate versions both maintain the commodity programs Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) that help farmers manage price and yield risks. The House version of the Farm Bill updates reference prices under the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program. The Senate version keeps those reference prices the same.  The Senate version adjusts the ARC formula by increasing the substitute “transitional” T-yield from 70 percent to 75 percent of the county T-yield when yields are lower than 75 percent. The Risk Management Agency would become the default for needed data calculating PLC & ARC guarantees rather than information from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

CBO estimates that the House version of the Farm Bill will increase spending on the PLC program by $408 million.  However, spending for the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program is estimated to reduce by a total $254 million; $111 million reduction in ARC-County and a $143 million reduction for eliminating ARC-Individual County.

Payment Limits – The Senate version tightens the means test for commodity payment beneficiaries by reducing the adjusted gross income limit from $900,000 to $700,000.  The House version eases eligibility requirements by allowing members of LLC’s and S corporations to receive up to $125,000 and allows extended family members like cousins, nieces and nephews as eligible recipients of payments.

Conservation – The House version of the Farm Bill increases the acreage limit for the Conservation Reserve Program from the current 24 million acres to 29 million acres. The Senate version caps CRP acreage to 25 million acres.

The House version eliminates the Conservation Security Program (CSP).  The Senate version maintains CSP and caps new acreage at 8.8 million acres per year.

The House elimination of CSP created budget savings of $12.6 billion (over 10-years).  This allowed the House to re-distribute these cost savings into other conservation programs like Environmental Quality Incentive Program increases from $1.47 billion in FY 2019 to $1.6 billion in FY 2023.  The Senate version reserves half of the EQIP funding for livestock producers.  The House does not reserve such amounts specifically for livestock producers.

Industrialized Hemp – the Senate version of the Farm Bill removes industrial hemp from the Controlled Substance Act and allows its production by registered producers. The House version does not have similar provisions.

Energy Programs – The House version eliminates the Energy Title and permanent funding of Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The Senate version continues REAP with $50 million in baseline funding. Funding for other energy programs such as Biomass Crop Assistance and Advanced Biofuels would be subject to annual appropriations.

Organic Programs – The Senate version of the Farm Bill provides additional funding for organic research, enhanced enforcement preventing imports of fraudulent organic products and partial reimbursement for annual certification fees of beginning organic producers. The House version reauthorizes appropriations for the National Organic Program:

  • FY 2018, $15 million
  • FY 2019, $16.5 million
  • FY 2020, $18 million
  • FY 2021, $20 million
  • FY 2022, $22 million
  • FY 2023, $24 million.

The House version directs the Secretary to modernize international organic trade tracking and data collection systems and authorizes mandatory funding of $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2019. It also reauthorizes appropriations of $5 million for each fiscal year 2019- 2023 for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative.


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