WASHINTON, Nov. 22, 3025 - The crop insurance program may have dodged a bullet in the new budget agreement, but more shots may be coming, starting as soon as next year. Or at least House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway is gearing up for that possibility by organizing an outreach effort to fellow House Republicans.
House GOP leaders have pledged to reverse a $3 billion cut to crop insurance that was included in the budget deal. But they’ve also pledged a more open process for handling legislation on the House floor, and that’s where there could be trouble for Conaway and his committee. GOP leaders kept the Agriculture appropriations bill, which funds USDA and FDA, off the House floor this year, depriving critics of farm programs a chance to propose amendments that would involve cuts in funding. But Conaway, R-Texas, knows he might not be so fortunate in 2016.
So, Conaway and fellow Republicans on the committee will be meeting with groups of their GOP colleagues starting as soon as next week to field questions about crop insurance as well as other farm and nutrition programs.
“Each member has a small group that they’re going to be listening to ... modeled after what we do with our constituents back home,” Conaway said. “We want to be the link between the (House Republican) conference and the ag issues.”
Putting it another way, he said, “The idea is to give folks a chance to talk about ag issues in a format with folks who know what they’re talking about and get our perspective as well.”
The committee members will be divided up on a regional basis. Conaway and Randy Neugaubauer, for example, will be responsible for their 23 fellow Republicans in the Texas delegation.
Conaway cautioned that it isn’t an effort to create “whip” teams to back the committee’s positions, but he thinks the outreach will not only help with annual appropriations but to lay the groundwork for defending farm programs when the farm bill is up for renewal in 2018.
“Members need to know about the issues and facts and then they’ll make better decisions on votes at some point in the future. Obviously, 2018 is coming around pretty quick, and the better educated our members are as to what the issues are that production agriculture faces, the easier it will be to get them to support the program that keeps those guys in business,” he said.
The attacks on crop insurance and other programs from both the right and left are likely to intensify. After the leadership agreed to reverse the cut, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Ron Kind, D-Wis., introduced legislation that would slash $24 billion from the insurance program in addition to the $3 million reduction that was in the budget agreement.
“We’re just trying to push back,” Flake told Agri-Pulse. “This is big money. This isn’t just piddly stuff.”
The bill isn’t going anywhere on its own, but any one of the collection of proposals could make an appearance either in the Agriculture appropriations process or, almost certainly, when the farm bill is up for debate.
“The last few weeks have shown that rural America is willing to fight to maintain the critical support that crop insurance provides,” said Mike Torrey, executive vice president of the Crop Insurance Research Bureau, a leading industry trade group. “But this also means that as crop insurance grows in importance, we must broaden efforts to find common ground and help non-traditional allies understand the value of the program.”
As for that $3 billion cut in the budget deal, it’s still not clear where the money is going to be found to keep it from falling on crop insurers. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, worries that agriculture programs could still get cut despite the leadership promise. “This is a promise by leaders and sometimes these promises aren’t carried out.”
But both Conaway and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., say they are confident that the money won’t come out of agriculture and nutrition programs.
“My faith is in (House Speaker) Paul Ryan and (Majority Leader) Kevin McCarthy, keeping their promise that they made to me to keep that (the cut to insurers) from happening,” Conaway said. “I’ve got confidence that they will deliver on what they promised.”
“Titanium-clad” is how Roberts describes the deal with House GOP leadership. “There’s a general understanding now of just how serious this was. …. It was a very bad mistake.”
Roberts went on, “Maybe there’s a silver lining in this,” referring to the furious, 48-hour lobbying campaign by farm groups, crop insurers and bankers that led to the leadership deal. “Everybody just weighed in. That’s a good thing. We all got together.”
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