Farm bill negotiators say they have reached a tentative agreement on the legislation pending getting final cost estimates.
“We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill. We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as (Congressional Budget Office) scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible," leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees said in a joint statement Thursday morning.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said early Thursday afternoon that no problems had cropped up to that point with the CBO cost estimates. But he said it could be early next week before negotiators are ready to brief colleagues on the bill.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said he was told that he would be happy with the bill's nutrition title. Sources say the negotiators rejected provisions in the House-passed bill that would tighten work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, urged lawmakers to pass the bill. The legislation "emerging from the conference committee is good news for farmers amid a prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy. ... Continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers.
"These programs will help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face. Additionally, the bill continues to help low-income children, families, seniors and military veterans access the high-quality foods produced by farm families."
At mid-day Wednesday, Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters outside the Senate chamber that the negotiators reached agreement on all the outstanding issues but still needed to get the cost estimates, or scores, from the Congressional Budget Office to make sure no additional changes were needed.
Asked how soon he expected to get those numbers from CBO, he told reporters, “Sooner is better. I’m going to be talking to leadership to see if we can light a fire.”
Monday night, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, issued a statement confirming the deal. “I am excited about the progress that has been made. We’ve reached an agreement in principle, but we’ve got more work to do. I’m committed to delivering this important win to rural America.”
Roberts expects the legislation to be considered as a standalone bill rather than being attached to spending legislation Congress must pass in December.
Earlier Wednesday, Roberts and the Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said congressional leaders had agreed on how to address the Trump administration's demands for new authority for addressing wildfires. But the senators declined to discuss how the forestry issue was settled or to talk about other details of the pending agreement.
"We’re very, very close to getting a bill and going any farther would be counterproductive,” Stabenow said.
Representatives of major environmental groups said they didn't expect the administration to get the key provisions it wanted, categorical exclusions from the National Environmental Policy Act that can accelerate salvage or thinning projects on federal lands.
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Roberts chairs the House-Senate conference committee charged with negotiating the final bill, but the negotiations were largely been carried out by Roberts, Stabenow, leaders of the House Agriculture Committee, and staffs of both the Senate and House committees.
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