House Republicans prepare to force their new farm bill through the Agriculture Committee this week in what is likely to be a bitter but potentially brief debate, setting up a likely showdown on the House floor in May.

Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, expresses confidence that a farm bill can still get to President Trump’s desk despite the deeply partisan start to the process in the House due to the reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program his measure includes. 

“I’m not so arrogant and naive to believe my bill is going to get to the president’s desk. A lot of modifications are going to happen. … but I think we have a good chance of making this happen,” he told Agri-Pulse.

Democrats on Conaway’s committee are united against his bill and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is pressuring her conference to oppose the measure when it reaches the floor.

The committee’s debate on the bill, scheduled to start Wednesday, could be unusually short for a major piece of legislation. Previous committee debates on farm bills have been known to go late into the night. But the panel’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said in an interview with Adams on Agriculture that he expected few if any amendments from his side to get votes. Democrats consider the bill  “a sham … They’re not going to vote for it,” Peterson said. 

Another senior Democrat on the committee, Jim Costa of California, told Agri-Pulse his colleagues may offer a few amendments but then withdraw them, a maneuver members use when they want to make a statement about an issue but don't want to force a vote on it. 

Costa called Conaway's bill a “political statement.” “To attempt to pass a partisan bill out of committee ... I think is a real mistake,” Costa said. 

Conaway has already been looking beyond the committee debate to get the Republican support he’ll need to pass the bill on the floor over united Democratic opposition. Conaway also needs enough votes in the full House to block amendments that would cut crop insurance, kill the sugar program or tighten payment limits on commodity programs.

Peterson said Democrats are so angry about the bill that some of those amendments could be adopted. Lobbyists for the crop insurance industry already are at work recruiting GOP fiscal conservatives and Democrats to oppose crop insurance cuts. 

Conaway met separately on Thursday, the day he released the bill, with the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and the group’s former chairman, Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Neither endorsed the legislation. “They’re still trying to absorb it at this point,” Conaway said. But Meadows and Jordan have both been pushing for the SNAP reforms Conaway put in the bill. Conaway said he borrowed some of the provisions from a broader welfare bill that Jordan introduced a year ago. 

Meadows and Jordan have previously expressed some reservations about pushing the farm bill and SNAP reforms in an election year. Jordan told the Huffington Post in February that he preferred doing a one-year extension of the farm bill this year. 

Conaway said he hoped to meet with the larger Republican Study Committee next week. 

The Congressional Budget Office on Friday released an analysis of Conaway’s bill that details how the legislation relied on shifts in conservation and nutrition spending to fund priorities. The bill would eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program to save $12.6 billion over 10 years, of which $7.7 billion would go toward expanding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. 

Most of the rest of the CSP savings would be kept in the conservation title for other programs, but $795 million would be moved into other sections of the bill.

Also this week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will be testifying before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on successive days. The panel is preparing to write the fiscal 2019 spending bill for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

CLICK HERE for the House farm bill text.
CLICK HERE for the section-by-section summary of the bill.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, April 16

4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, April 17

10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on the Surface Transportation Board, 2167 Rayburn.

1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, 2362-A Rayburn.

Wednesday, April 18

9:30 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, 2007 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee marks up the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, the farm bill, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the federal and state role in protecting groundwater, 406 Dirksen.

1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USDA with Perdue, 2362-A Rayburn. 

2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, 430 Dirksen.

Thursday, April 19

9 a.m. - House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing for House members, 2362-B Rayburn.

9:30 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriation Subcommittee hearing for House members, 2362-B Rayburn.

9:30 a.m. - House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with the inspectors general for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, 2359 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on rural energy challenges and opportunities, 366 Dirksen.

Friday, April 20

For more news, go to: