The Senate's nine farm bill negotiators include Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants the legislation finalized next month, as well as a Democrat facing a tough re-election race this fall, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
The slate of four Democrats announced Wednesday includes Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who also is seeking re-election in November, along with the Senate Agriculture Committee’s ranking member, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and former Agriculture Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
In addition to McConnell (shown above), the five Republican conferees include Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Boozman of Arkansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Joni Ernst of Iowa.
All but McConnell, Ernst and Heitkamp were conferees on the 2014 farm bill. North Dakota will have its entire three-member congressional delegation represented on the conference committee.
A source familiar with how the nominees were selected said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wanted Heitkamp included after her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, was named among the 47 House conferees. Heitkamp’s selection meant that Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was left off the conference committee. Klobuchar was a conferee for the 2014 farm bill.
The Senate, then controlled by Democrats, had 12 conferees during development of the 2014 farm bill. They comprised seven Democrats and five Republicans.
In a joint statement, Roberts and Stabenow said “this strong group of Senate conferees knows how to work together on a bipartisan basis to get the farm bill across the finish line. We look forward to beginning the conference process so we can provide certainty to our farmers, families, and rural communities.”
McConnell reiterated his intent Wednesday to have a final version of the farm bill ready for President Donald Trump to sign by the end of Sept. 30, when many programs in the 2014 farm bill will expire. "I look forward to serving as a conferee myself and to finishing up the farm bill prior to its expiration," McConnell said.
McConnell has taken a personal interest in insuring that the final version of the bill includes provisions included in the Senate-passed version to legalize the production of industrial hemp. McConnell also is said to see the bill as important to his effort to retain control of the Senate.
Roberts has said he hopes to schedule a meeting of the full conference committee in late August. He expressed confidence the Senate conferees could reach agreement with House Republicans on work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
"I think we can come together," Roberts said Wednesday. "The paramount issue is to get this (bill) done. ... It's not quite a farm crisis yet, but it's damn close."
A network of Republican state welfare agency directors is pushing back against criticism of the food stamp work provisions in the House farm bill. The Secretaries Innovation Group, which represents 22 states, says states are ready to expand their employment and training programs as required by the House measure. The House bill also would expand existing SNAP work requirements to include able-bodied adults in their 50s and parents of children over 6.
In a six-page paper, SIG urged lawmakers not to wait for results from a series of pilot projects that the USDA is currently conducting. The Senate version of the farm bill would expand the projects.
SIG said “it is high time to cease the endless pilots, invest in people and States, and allow non-working recipients to earn their own income and move beyond long term dependence on SNAP."
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