House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway looks to shore up GOP support for their farm bill this week while finding the necessary votes to defeat floor amendments that target commodity programs or crop insurance. 

Conaway, who hopes to have the bill on the House floor next week, expresses confidence that he will have the necessary GOP votes on final passage as long as he can defeat amendments that he considers poison pills, such as one that would roll back the sugar program. 

“It’s unfortunate that my Democrat friends have gone to the sidelines, but that’s their choice,” Conaway, R-Texas, said last week on the AgriTalk radio show. “I think I can get this done with just Republicans, and so that’s the direction we’re going to go.”

He said the bill’s expanded work requirements for food stamp recipients and other reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are winning over his GOP colleagues. "We're doing the right stuff on SNAP, and that's the focus of much of the (GOP) conference," he said.

The House Agriculture Committee’s ranking member, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said last week that Democrats won’t offer any amendments and will be united in opposing the bill. They argue that the bill is unfixable because of the SNAP reforms and the inadequacy of the farm income support. 

On Tuesday, Conaway will go to the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to defend the SNAP provisions in a question-and answer-session with Robert Doar, the think tank’s long-time expert on welfare reform. 

The event also will feature a panel with Doar and two other advocates of SNAP work requirements, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation and Jason Turner of the Secretaries’ Innovation Group, a coalition of GOP state welfare agency chiefs. 

Rector has said the bill wouldn’t do enough to force able-bodied adults without dependents into the workforce but was too harsh on parents of school-age children. The bill would require all work-capable adults up to 59 years old to work or be in an approved training program at least 20 hours a week, including parents with children over the age of 6. 

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have said Conaway’s SNAP reforms would be dead on arrival in that chamber, but Conaway said they will ultimately have to compromise with him on some changes in the program.

Conaway’s bill also came under fire from conservative groups and free-market economists for not reforming commodity programs and crop insurance.  At an AEI forum last week, several economists noted that the bill liberalized commodity program payment limits while leaving the commodity programs as well as crop insurance largely unchanged. 

Separately, Heritage Action, Club for Growth and a dozen other organizations said in a joint letter that the bill “not only fails to make reforms to farm subsidies, but actually makes the subsidies even worse.” The groups said the farm bill promotes farmer dependence “on federal handouts, instead of empowering individuals to succeed on their own.” 

Meanwhile, Monday is the long-awaited deadline for restaurant chains and store delis to be in compliance with the FDA’s new menu labeling requirements. Many chains have long since been posting calorie counts on their menu boards in anticipation of the FDA rules, which were required by the Affordable Care Act. 

Last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb promoted the requirements on his Twitter account and appeared on Fox and Friends to argue that the labeling would help combat obesity.

FDA made sure the regulations “can be implemented in way that’s maximally beneficial to consumers and minimally burdensome to restaurants,” Gottlieb said. 

Also this week, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Tuesday will look at the implications of electric cars for renewable fuels and other issues. The witnesses will include Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. 

“Several fuel- and vehicle-related federal programs, like the Renewable Fuel Standard, were designed under the assumption that liquid fuels would continue to predominate and did not envision significant market penetration of EVs. Such policies may no longer be reflective of evolving market conditions,” according to a staff background memo prepared for the hearing.

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will advance its fiscal 2019 spending bill for USDA and FDA. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. 

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

Monday, May 7

Compliance deadline for FDA’s menu labeling requirements.

Representatives from the United States, Mexico and Canada will meet again in Washington to continue their talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

10 a.m. - Agriculture Secretary Perdue to swear in Ken Barbic as assistant secretary for congressional relations. Room 107A, Whitten Building.

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

5:30 p.m. - House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2019 spending bill, 2362-B Rayburn.

Tuesday, May 8

8:30 a.m. - American Enterprise Institute forum on the farm bill and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW. 

9 a.m. - Bipartisan Policy Center forum, “Investing in the Nation’s Future – A Renewed Commitment to Federal Science Funding,” 1225 Eye St NW.

10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing on the “Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the Airspace.” 253 Russell.

10 a.m. - House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Challenges and Solutions in the Opioid Abuse Crisis.” 2141 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on “Combating the Opioid Epidemic: Examining Concerns about Distribution and Diversion.” 2123 Rayburn.

10:15 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, “Sharing the Road: Policy Implications of Electric and Conventional Vehicles in the Years Ahead,” 2322 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, 192 Dirksen.

Wednesday, May 9

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing to examine law enforcement programs at Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on “Program Integrity for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” 2154 Rayburn.

4 p.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY19 bill, 2362-A Rayburn.

5 p.m. - House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY19 bill, 2362-B Rayburn.

Thursday, May 10

9:30 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, 138 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the state of electric transmission infrastructure, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Labor Secretary Alex Azar, 124 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, 192 Dirksen. 

Noon - USDA releases World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and monthly Crop Production report.

Friday, May 11

Noon - Cato Institute forum, “Costly Crops: Opportunities to Reform the Farm Bill,” 2044 Rayburn.

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