House Republican leaders pick up the pieces this week after another embarrassing defeat on a farm bill, which was weighed down yet again by controversial food stamp reforms before sinking because of an intra-party feud over immigration policy.
There are several ways the GOP could resurrect the farm bill, one of which is to bring the bill back up as a new piece of legislation, likely in June after the week-long Memorial Day recess.
That would mean the House could be moving again almost simultaneously with the Senate version. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., wants his committee to act on its bill in early June, although he and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, are still unable to reach agreement on several major issues.
“What this does is put the House and Senate a little more on the same time frame,” said Dale Moore, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Also this week, the Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Tuesday will act on the fiscal 2019 spending bills for the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration and for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The House Appropriations Committee approved its FY19 Agriculture and Energy-Water bills last week. The Agriculture bill features an additional $550 billion in grants and loans for rural broadband expansion. The Energy-Water bill includes a provision to repeal the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule.
The 213-198 defeat of the farm bill on Friday was merely a “rainout,” Moore said. Farm groups have to “sit down and take deep breaths, and get ready for the next round of the ballgame.”
In the meantime, Republican leaders are faced with the simmering intra-party dispute over immigration policy that snagged the farm bill. Republicans from California, Texas and Florida who support legalizing the Dreamers, immigrants who came to he country illegally as children, have joined Democrats in signing a discharge petition that would force action on the issue. Under “Queen of the Hill” rules, it is expected that their favored bill would pass among four that would be considered.
As of Friday, 196 House members had signed the discharge petition, but five more Republicans will need to add their names, plus every Democrat, to force the House to act on it.
Members of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus are determined to head off the petition process and have seized on the farm bill to demand that, in return for their votes for the bill, the House act on an immigration bill sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
“Once you give up your vote on this (the farm bill), you have no more leverage for what’s next,” Freedom Caucus member Scott Perry, R-Pa., said after the failure of the farm bill.
In a bid to save the farm bill Friday, GOP leaders promised a vote on the Goodlatte bill by June 25, but that wasn’t good enough to get the holdout Freedom Caucus members to vote for the farm bill.
“They asked for a concession, got the concession and took down the bill anyway,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, an endangered California Republican who is a leader of the effort on the discharge petition.
Five years ago, the farm bill failed on the House floor after an amendment to tighten work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cost critical Democratic support.
This time, the work requirements were added to the bill in committee, a move intended in part to win conservative support. But Democrats united in opposition to the bill and several moderate Republicans also didn’t like the bill, leaving the Freedom Caucus in the position to make demands on unrelated issues.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said President Donald Trump “hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our nation’s agricultural community.”
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, May 21
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 22
10 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the fiscal 2019 Interior-Environment spending bill for the Interior Department, EPA and the Forest Service, 2118 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meeting to consider various bills, including the Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2018, 106 Dirksen.
10:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2019 spending bill, 192 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY19 bill, 138 Dirksen.
Wednesday, May 23
10 a.m. - House Appropriations meeting to consider the FY19 Transportation-HUD bill, 2118 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the impact of tax reform on small businesses, 1100 Longworth.
Thursday, May 24
Organic Trade Association 2018 Policy Conference, National Press Club.
9 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing, “Rural Health Care in America: Challenges and Opportunities,” 215 Dirksen.
Friday, May 25
9 a.m. - USDA releases the monthly Food Price Outlook.
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