SAN ANTONIO, March 3, 2017 - As Congress begins to work seriously on crafting a new farm bill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said today that when it comes to budget cuts, “we gave at the office.”
Conaway gave a speech to farmers and ag leaders this morning at Commodity Classic in San Antonio, and followed up with a press conference to farm media. His overarching message in both forums was the same, however: To avoid adding more uncertainty to an already strained farm economy, the next farm bill must be done on time.
“If you want the drama associated with short-term extensions or expirations and permanent law, I need you to go to a different theater,” he said in his speech at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, drawing applause from the packed ballroom. Conaway also said President Donald J. Trump has said he wants a “strong farm bill and on time.”
The Texas Republican cited a letter he and the committee’s ranking minority member, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., sent to the budget committee Wednesday, “asking for the same resources we got in 2014.”
Agriculture voluntarily agreed to save $23 billion over 10 years when it developed the 2014 farm bill, but the latest estimates show that the savings are more than four times that – about $104 billion, Conaway said.
Most of that savings, about $92 billion, comes from reduced participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Conaway said, adding that he is “spectacularly opposed” to splitting SNAP from the rest of the farm bill.
“The only people who want to split the farm bill want to defeat it,” he said. Groups such as The Heritage Foundation, Environmental Working Group and Taxpayers for Common Sense have been critical of the cost of farm programs.
Conaway said that commodity groups need to realize that any requests for new spending will have to identify the source of the funding.
“If you’re going to ask for something new, then you’re going to have to help me figure out where we are going to get the money to make that happen,” he said.
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The congressman said American consumers need to appreciate the source of the nation’s affordable food supply. “I’m going to deputize everybody in here. You’re now a part of that process of convincing consumers that they need to support this farm bill,” he said in his speech.
Conaway also emphasized the importance of trade to agriculture, saying he was pushing the Trump administration to move quickly on negotiating bilateral agreements, now that the United States has pulled out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Other issues the farm bill will have to address, Conaway said:
- County variability in payments made under the Agriculture Risk Coverage program.
- Tough times in cotton country. The Stacked Income Protection Plan is not working, he said, vowing to get “cotton back into Title I.”
- A safety net for dairy farmers. The Margin Protection Program set up in the 2014 farm bill has suffered from low participation rates.
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