Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee are set to push their farm bill through the panel this with week, but the big question is whether they will have the Democratic support they would need to give the mammoth legislation some momentum heading to the House floor.

It’s unclear whether any Democrats will vote for the 942-page Farm, Food and National Security Act, which would boost spending on commodity programs and crop insurance while reducing projected nutrition spending and move some of that savings into other areas of the bill, including trade promotion programs.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., told Agri-Pulse on Friday that he hasn’t decided whether to put the bill on the floor, saying he’s “waiting to see what comes out of committee.”

Committee markups of farm bills have been known to go late into the night before, with debates on amendments to each of the titles, but House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., suggested he doesn't expect a particularly extensive debate on Thursday, citing the provisions he put in the bill that have bipartisan support. 

 “There’s so much good stuff baked in from both sides, I don’t know if we’ll have as many amendments,” he told Agri-Pulse.

Thompson is in a hurry to get the bill out of committee before June, when the Congressional Budget Office is due to release an updated forecast of farm program costs. The new estimates could result in increased cost estimates for the bill were committee action to be delayed until after the forecast is released.

Even so, the bill’s funding sources remain a fundamental challenge for Republicans. 

Former Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he couldn’t think of a single Democrat who would vote for the bill, primarily because it would restrict USDA’s future updates of the Thrifty Food Plan, the model of food costs used to set Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Peterson also said he didn’t think commodity groups were putting a significant amount of pressure on lawmakers to pass the bill except for representatives of some commodities grown in the South: rice and cotton. For that reason, Rep. Don Davis, D-N.C., is seen as one of the GOP’s best hopes. He has so far been coy in talking to reporters.

“If the funding mechanisms stay, that's not a bipartisan bill,” said Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat whose support Republicans have been trying to get.

In addition to the TFP funding, the bill also relies on suspending USDA’s Section 5 spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation, a revolving fund that was used to pay for trade assistance during the Trump administration and for a number of Biden administration priorities, including the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. The bill also would remove climate guardrails from $13 billion in Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding, another move that has drawn Democratic opposition.

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Craig noted that Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is funding her alternative farm bill without those provisions. "And so, look there's a different way to do this to achieve the same goals, and I honestly just don't know how they're going to get this to the House floor anyway," Craig said. 

The House Ag bill also has a significant funding gap. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the suspension of Section 5 authority would save $8 billion over 10 years, far less than the $53 billion needed to cover the cost of changes to commodity programs and crop insurance. Thompson is pushing CBO to dramatically increase its estimate and counting on assistance from Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas.

Also this week, the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Andy Harris of Maryland, is preparing for the fiscal 2025 appropriations process by holding a hearing on nutrition and SNAP. Harris is an advocate for restricting the types of foods that can be purchased with SNAP benefits, somewhat like the government does with the Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program.

Harris, a physician, inserted authorization for a pilot program on SNAP food restrictions into his subcommittee’s FY24 funding bill for USDA and FDA, but the provision was dropped in final negotiations with congressional Democrats and the White House.

The witnesses at his hearing Wednesday will include Robert Lustig, a critic of the processed food industry and professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, whose latest book is “Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine.”

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, May 20

4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.

Tuesday, May 21

2:30 – Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, “Feeding a Healthier America: Current Efforts and Potential Opportunities for Food is Medicine,” 430 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. – Senate Finance subcommittee hearing, “Examining Trade Enforcement and Entry of Merchandise at U.S. Ports,” 215 Dirksen.

Wednesday, May 22

10 a.m. – House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, “Nutritious Foods in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” 2362-A Rayburn.

3 p.m. – USDA releases Farm Labor report.

Thursday, May 23

8:30 a.m. – USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

Noon – House Agriculture Committee meeting to consider the Farm, Food and National Security Act, 1300 Longworth.

Friday, May 24

9 a.m. – USDA releases Food Price Outlook.

Download the text of the Farm, Food and National Security Act here

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