The House takes a key step this week toward beginning negotiations with the Senate on a final farm bill, but the talks may not formally begin until August.
The House is scheduled to vote to go to conference with the Senate on the legislation, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said it would probably take the rest of the month for House and Senate leaders to appoint the members of the conference committee.
“Getting all that done before the end of July is going to be hard,” said Conaway.
The House passed its bill over united Democratic opposition June 21, 213-211, and the Senate approved a bipartisan version a week later, 86-11.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has taken a personal interest in the legislation, which he reiterated in a conversation with Conaway last week. McConnell wants to use the legislation to legalize the production of industrial hemp and also is said to view the bill as important to Republicans in the November mid-term elections.
“Hemp is obviously a big deal (for him), but his bigger focus is on getting this done on behalf of production agriculture and rural America,” said Conaway. “I’m tickled to death that he’s that keenly interested on getting this done.”
It remains unclear how congressional leaders will resolve the sharp differences between the House and Senate bills over the tougher work requirements for food stamp recipients that Republicans put into the House version.
President Donald Trump hasn’t threatened to veto a bill that doesn’t contain tighter work rules, but ahead of the farm bill negotiations the White House released a report last week that argues for tougher work rules for all welfare programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
House Republicans believe it will be hard for moderate Senate Democrats up for re-election this year to resist any changes in SNAP work rules. Conaway said the issue is vital to House Republicans.
“I’m getting a lot of my colleagues unsolicited coming up and telling me you’ve got to keep the work requirements, you’ve got to keep the work requirements, that kind of stuff,” said Conaway. “For the 213 (Republicans) that helped pass the House bill the work issue is a big deal.”
Also this week, House Republicans could announce a bill that would replace the existing H-2A visa program for farmworkers. The legislation, which is intended to force the House to take a stand on ag labor needs, is expected to include provisions of a broader immigration bill that failed in the House last month.
The bill would have created a new H-2C farmworker program and required all employers, including farms, to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of workers. The new version also is expected to include provisions addressing the H-2B visa program for non-farm workers.
The American Farm Bureau Federation is supporting the effort. “There’s enough good stuff there … so we’re going to ask everyone to vote for it. Growers can’t wait,” said Paul Schlegel, AFBF’s managing director for public policy and economics.
But the California Farm Bureau and the Western Growers Association have declined to support the House Judiciary Committee's H-2C approach, which would require all workers in the country illegally to apply for H-2C visas and return to their home countries. Spouses and children would be ineligible for the visas unless they were also working on farms.
Western Growers has argued that few farmworkers “would leave spouses and children behind in the U.S., many subject to deportation, on the questionable assumption that the federal government will efficiently readmit them as temporary seasonal guest workers.”
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, July 16
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
5 p.m. - The House Rules Committee meets to consider the rule for the fiscal 2019 Interior-Environment spending bill, H-312.
Tuesday, July 17
9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum, “Gene Editing: Opportunities and Challenges,” National Press Club.
9:45 a.m. - The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on a draft bill revising the Endangered Species Act, 406 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Bipartisan Policy Center forum, “What Do Voters Want Done on Immigration? Is There a Bipartisan Path Forward?” 1225 Eye St NW, Suite 1000.
10 a.m. - The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the benefits of rural broadband, 2123 Rayburn.
Wednesday, July 18
National Corn Growers Association’s annual Corn Congress, through Thursday, Capital Hilton.
9 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on energy storage in the electricity system, 2322 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on oversight of cryptocurrencies, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s government reorganization plan, 342 Dirksen.
2 p.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on the effects of tariffs on agriculture and rural communities, 1100 Longworth.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Finance subcommittee hearing on trade and commerce at U.S. ports of entry, 215 Dirksen.
Thursday, July 19
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s planned reorganization of the Energy and Interior departments, 366 Dirksen.
Friday, July 20
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