House Republicans have made their first move in the simmering fight over the federal debt ceiling. And as expected the GOP debt-ceiling bill released Wednesday includes a provision to expand work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Democrats quickly blasted the bill, including the SNAP work provisions. “Republicans are preparing to add billions to the deficit while creating crisis after crisis: higher drug prices for seniors, restricting food assistance for those in need, and cratering the security of countless pensions,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.

But, but, but: The bill’s SNAP provisions are significantly more modest than what Republican have pushed for in the last two farm bills, and less than what many GOP members had been pushing for in recent weeks. The debt-ceiling bill would raise the work requirement to age 55, from the current 49. A group of GOP members recently proposed to raise the work requirement to 65 and also apply to parents of children over 6. 

The House version of what became the 2018 farm bill would have raised the age to 59 and also required parents of school-age kids to work. And that’s not all. Other provisions in that 2018 bill would have effectively lowered the income eligibility limit for SNAP in many states by eliminating what’s called “broad-based categorical eligibility.” 

What’s next: The GOP debt-ceiling bill is DOA in the Senate, even if it can pass the House. So, the big question is whether Republicans will still try to try to use the farm bill to expand the SNAP work rules. 

Taylor on Mexico’s biotech corn bias: The ‘science is on our side’

The Biden administration still hasn’t announced a decision on whether it will begin a dispute process against Mexico for its restriction on genetically modified white corn, but USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor stressed Wednesday that when it comes to support for GMOs, “science is on our side.”

U.S. and Mexican trade and ag officials met recently for technical consultations over Mexico’s new prohibition that forbids tortilla makers from using GM white corn, impeding U.S. exports of the commodity. Those talks could lead to a dispute process, but it’s still unclear if that is the path the Biden administration will take.

“We are assessing what we’ve heard,” Taylor told reporters.

EPA chief stands firm on Biden proposals

EPA Administrator Michael Regan mostly was able to avoid hostile questioning at a four-hour House Agriculture Committee hearing, but one exchange provided its fair share of tension.

Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., repeatedly interrupted Regan as he tried to respond to the congressman’s criticism of the agency’s delay in issuing a decision on E15 use this summer, and of the agency’s tailpipe emissions proposal.

“You don’t want a response,” Regan said when Van Orden cut him off. Van Orden relented, and Regan told him that “if the conditions were the exact same as they were last year … I would have issued that E15 waiver.”

Van Orden moved on to the tailpipe proposal, saying most of the cobalt needed for electric vehicles is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He accused the Biden administration of pushing its environmental agenda “on the backs of child miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“That’s an absurd statement,” Regan responded, stressing that the tailpipe regulations are in a proposed rule that would not go in effect until 2027.

UK signs trade pact with Oklahoma

The UK has been upfront for years that it wants a free trade agreement with the U.S., but the British are now settling for pacts with individual American states as the broader nation-to-nation negotiations appear to be going nowhere. 

British Trade Minister Nigel Huddleston and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt this week signed a deal to boost trade and investment. Agriculture is one of the “priority areas for cooperation” with a focus on crops such as cotton and hemp, according to the deal.

It’s the fourth such state-level pact with the UK after the British reached agreements with Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“The U.S. is our largest trading partner, and these wins reflect our successful twin-track approach to trade with the US, strengthening links with individual states in parallel with work with the federal government,” Huddleston said.

What’s next? “We are currently discussing future agreements with states including Utah, Texas and California,” the British government said in a statement.

Lawmakers told cuts to Reclamation would harm West

Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau told lawmakers Wednesday that cuts to the Bureau of Reclamation’s budget would be harmful to agricultural water needs in the West.

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Beaudreau, in response to a question from House Natural Resources Committee member Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., said the current strain on the drought-starved Colorado River requires Congress to provide more funding for the system, not less.

“To move backwards by cutting our budget with respect to the Bureau of Reclamation and water delivery has the potential to severely impact the 40 million people who rely on that basin for fundamental needs such as drinking water and agriculture,” Beaudreau said. 

Senators want dryland inclusion in CREP

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan., are announcing a bill today that would direct the Agriculture Department to allow dryland agricultural uses on some land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program acreage.

The bill, called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Improvement Act, would also add dryland crop production and grazing to the list of appropriate conservation practices for the CREP program and allow alfalfa and other continuous cropping systems to be eligible for drought and water conservation CREP agreements.

Take note: The Senate Agriculture Committee’s conservation subcommittee, which Bennet chairs, is holding a hearing on conservation programs today.

She said it: “I just want to specifically address something that has been talked about a lot, a big thing by House colleagues, House leadership and just say, ‘Newsflash: SNAP has work requirements.’” – Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., at a Senate Ag subcommittee hearing Wednesday

Steve Davies, Bill Tomson, Noah Wicks and Jacqui Fatka contributed to this report.