WASHINGTON, June 25, 2017 - House Republicans look to roll out a fiscal 2018 budget blueprint this week that could cut farm bill spending to help offset the cost of increased defense spending or tax cuts.
Even as the nation was focused on the Senate’s health care debate, House negotiations continued into the weekend on the budget resolution, which is expected to include at least $150 billion in cuts to mandatory spending programs, a category that includes farm programs and food stamps as well as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Some conservatives have been pushing for a bigger cut than that.
The budget resolution will pave the way for Republicans to approve major tax reform legislation using a process known as budget reconciliation that would allow the measure to pass the Senate with only GOP votes. Reconciliation measures require only a simple majority, not the normal 60 votes, to pass the Senate.
One of the major issues up in the air heading into the weekend was the size of the cut to farm bill spending, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, did not rule out accepting a cut of some size, but he has continued to argue against any reduction to farm programs and he has said he needs more money for SNAP in order to adjust benefits and make it easier for unemployed beneficiaries to move into jobs. He’s concerned that an abrupt cutoff in SNAP benefits discourages beneficiaries from taking jobs that put them over the current eligibility limits.
Conaway declined to say what numbers he was discussing with Budget Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn. “My position is that we’re going to be part of the solution of the budget,” Conaway said.
It’s not clear that the Senate would go along with whatever cuts the House GOP agrees to, but should the two chambers reach accord on cuts to SNAP and other agriculture spending, the entire farm bill may be included in the FY18 reconciliation package, along with tax reform.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have been demanding cuts to SNAP and other welfare programs to help pay for cutting taxes. “We have taken a position that we need to get mandatory savings that includes welfare reform,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
There were conflicting reports about whether a reduction to SNAP was included in the $150 billion reduction the Budget Committee was considering. Meadows said Friday that he didn’t think it was.
Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs House Agriculture’s nutrition subcommittee, said he didn’t like the idea of including the farm bill in a budget reconciliation package. “I have a problem with that. The farm bill is about the rural economy. I don’t think we should be used as some kind of trading chip in this process,” he said.
Also this week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the administration’s plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In public comments to USTR filed earlier this month, groups representing wheat, corn, rice, dairy, pork, beef, sorghum and other commodities urged the administration not to make major changes in the agreement that could reverse gains in U.S. agricultural exports.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer assured the Senate Finance Committee last week that the administration was determined to negotiate revisions to NAFTA that would discourage companies from moving factories to Mexico while protecting American farm exports to Mexico and Canada. He said there was no deadline for wrapping up the talks.
On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee continues a series of hearings in preparation for writing a new farm bill. This week’s hearing is focused on conservation programs and forestry.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, June 26
Western Governors’ Association annual meeting, through Wednesday, Whitefish, Mont.
11:30 a.m. - World Food Prize announcement of 2017 laureate, USDA.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, June 27
9 a.m. - U.S. Trade Representative holds public hearing on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, 00 E St. SW.
9:30 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, 124 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing, “Clearing the Next Crisis: Resilience, Recovery and Resolution of Derivative Clearinghouses,” 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission, 138 Dirksen.
10:30 a.m. - Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, 192 Dirksen.
Wednesday, June 28
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on impact of litigation against the Interior Department, 1324 Longworth.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, 138 Dirksen.
Thursday, June 29
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
9:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on conservation and forestry in the farm bill, 216 Hart.
Friday, June 30
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