President Donald Trump told key lawmakers Thursday that the tighter work rules for food stamp recipients in the House GOP farm bill move "in the right direction," but he stopped short of threatening to veto legislation that doesn't include them.
Trump is "a really strong proponent of the work requirements being improved in SNAP, strengthening SNAP because he believes that work is a pathway to prosperity and that our program should help people get on that path and not trap them in some sort of public assistance program," said House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, who was in the meeting with Trump along with Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
In remarks released by his committee, Conaway also said he asked Trump to use his Twitter account to promote the bill.
Perdue said to Agri-Pulse as he returned to his office after the meeting that Trump "believes the work requirements the House has are in the right direction.”
Conaway said the talks didn't get to the point of discussing what would make Trump veto a bill. "I just asked him for help getting my bill passed. ... We want to make sure what we can get out of the House that it’s supportive and he’s supportive of it," Conaway said.
Conaway hopes Trump’s positive comments about the House farm bill work rules could help secure the votes the Texas Republican needs to push the legislation to final passage in the House next week. Conaway acknowledged to reporters ahead of the meeting that he was still short of the necessary votes.
Conaway indicated before the meeting that he still needs to win over some Republicans who are currently undecided or who are not fully committed to voting against the bill. “There are enough in the lean-no category and undecided that we can get there,” he said.
The Heritage Foundation released an analysis today saying that the bill doesn't go far enough because it "fails to create effective and reasonable work requirements."
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters described the meeting as “constructive.”
“The president understands the significance of the farm bill and looks forward continuing the conversation,” she said. “He stands ready to work with the House and Senate to ensure the farm bill is enacted on time.”
A spokeswoman for Roberts called the meeting “productive” and said Trump “agrees that we need a farm bill.”
The House bill would require adults under 60 and parents of children over 6 who receive SNAP benefits to work at least 20 hours a week. Under current law, the work requirement is limited to able-bodied adults without dependents under the age of 50.
Roberts has said the SNAP provisions can't pass the Senate and has reiterated his commitment to moving a bipartisan bill that can get the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority.
Meanwhile, Conaway also is trying to make sure he has enough votes to defeat key amendments that he considers poison pills, including one filed by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., that would roll back the sugar program.
Conaway got a boost Thursday from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who voted in 2013 for an amendment that would have gutted the program. "I’ve long had views that the sugar program needs reforming, but what I am most interested in is getting a farm bill passed into law," Ryan told reporters.
Another amendment, filed by Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., would reduce the target rate on crop insurance company returns from 14.5 percent to 12 percent, a proposal included in President Trump's fiscal 2019 budget to save $3 billion over 10 years.
An industry group, the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, said the proposal would ultimately hurt farmers. "To work, crop insurance must be affordable and available to farmers and it must be economically viable for private-sector participation. Anything less harms farmers as they are dealing with a down economy and unpredictable weather."
An amendment proposed by Michael Burgess, R-Texas, would cap the cost of the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs. Total payments couldn’t exceed 10 percent of the Congressional Budget Office's projected cost.
A amendment by David Valadao, R-Calif., would significantly work the farm bill's dairy provisions by eliminating fees in the Margin Protection Program at the $4.50 and $5 per hundredweight coverage levels at any volume enrolled. The congressional budget agreement in February eliminated the fees but the House bill would restore them at the request of ranking Democrat Collin Peterson to offset the cost of providing coverage as high as $9.50 per hundredweight.
A leading advocate for welfare reform in the House, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Thursday that conservatives may propose additional changes to the bill’s SNAP reforms. Friday is the deadline for House members to file amendments.