House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson is turning his attention to winning over Republicans and a few more Democrats to his farm bill as he envisions a potential floor debate in September. But getting the legislation signed into law is still as elusive as ever.

In a best-case scenario, lawmakers could feasibly work out a deal in a lame duck session. But depending on the outcome of the election, experts say, the bill could easily get punted to the next Congress. Feasibly, a Republican Congress and White House could use the budget reconciliation process to pass much of Thompson's bill with little or no Democratic support.

Thompson, R-Pa., won four Democratic votes for the bill in committee, overcoming a highly unusual effort by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to unify Democrats against the legislation.

But Thompson faces a fundamental funding problem that he hasn't solved. The Congressional Budget Office says the commodity title would increase the deficit by as much as $39 billion over 10 years. To close the gap, he needs to persuade CBO to change the way it has scored the bill. Barring that, he could get Budget Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, to intervene and fix the issue through a move known as "directed scorekeeping." 

Thompson wants to offset the cost of the commodity title by limiting USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority, but CBO’s savings estimate is just $8 billion, far less than Thompson argues it should be; even if Arrington intervenes, the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to go along.

Lawmakers are also running out of time to pass a farm bill this year.

Stabenow is making no move to bring out a bill in the Senate. Thompson says the first chance to put his committee's bill on the House floor will be September, and he may not even do that if he can’t get the votes to pass it. After September, Congress is not scheduled to be in session until after the election.

Thompson told Agri-Pulse that he thinks the bill will have more support in the full House in September. Special elections before then could add three Republicans to the House, and beginning next week he plans an effort to sell current GOP House members on the bill, he said.

“There's going to be a lot of one-on-ones, informing members, meeting with caucuses on the Republican side,” Thompson said of his plans. “And quite frankly, I know that there's a few more Democratic votes to be picked up as well. I've had those discussions with some members.”

Former House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who now lobbies on farm issues, thinks Thompson has a shot at winning over more Democrats now that four minority members on the committee have bucked Stabenow and Jeffries to support the bill. 

“In my view, that's a big deal and big credit to GT and his team for working with the Dems and creating a legitimate bipartisan bill,” he told Agri-Pulse.Mike Conaway

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump could prove crucial to winning hard-right Republicans, Conaway said.

"I think one of the keys will be, where does President Trump come down on the deal? He was supportive of the '18 farm bill in the conversations I had with him and he was helpful in getting folks. He'll have some influence with the Freedom Caucus guys, to see where they are on their votes,” he said.

Conaway thinks lawmakers are likely to be gauging their positions based on what they think will be the outcome in the November election. Control of both the House and Senate, as well as the White House, are very much in play. 

“How does each side think their position's improved, remains the same, or is degraded by who's going to be in charge in January versus who's in charge in late November and December?” Conaway asked rhetorically.

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If Democrats win control of the House, they may want to start the farm bill process over next year, he said. The impact of the election on the Senate is harder to analyze, he said.

With neither party likely to get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, a farm bill would need to be bipartisan to pass the Senate under regular order. That means it will need the support of the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which will be Republican John Boozman of Arkansas if Democrats retain control of the Senate or, most likely, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar if the GOP takes control. Stabenow isn’t running for re-election.

But the prospect of Trump winning the White House and winning control of both the House and Senate raises the possibility that Republicans could try to pass large pieces of Thompson’s bill, or something like it, via the budget reconciliation process, bypassing regular order. 

Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in 2017 over Democratic objections, and Democrats flipped the script to enact the American Rescue Plan in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 with that procedure.

Key provisions of the TCJA expire in 2025, and it would be a high priority for Trump and congressional Republicans to extend them. The expiring provisions include individual tax rate reductions, a higher estate tax exemption and the Section 199A bustiness income deduction.

HoaglandBill Hoagland Bills that move through the reconciliation process need only a simple majority to pass the Senate, but provisions of the legislation must either raise or lower spending or revenue. Much of what’s in Thompson’s farm bill, including a reduction in projected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and increases in commodity program reference prices, could be enacted through the reconciliation process, said Bill Hoagland, a former Republican staff director for the Senate Budget Committee who is now senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Republicans may wait until the next Congress and do a lot of this in a budget reconciliation bill,” he said of the farm bill.

One potential challenge for Republicans is whether the farm bill provisions are scored as increasing the deficit. That could "limit the ability to raise commodity [reference] prices, unless they offset it all by cuts in the SNAP program,” Hoagland said.

It also may not be easy getting Republicans to unify on a reconciliation bill. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stalled President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan for months until it finally passed in a scaled-back version as the IRA.

Ferd Hoefner, a farm policy consultant who was the long-time policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, argues that the House Ag Committee’s approval of the farm bill doesn’t increase the chances of enacting a farm bill that much. If Arrington intervenes to close the funding gap, it’s likely to drive away some conservative GOP votes, he said.

As it stands, the bill “has no prospects for House floor, and very little in Senate,” he said.

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