WASHINGTON, July 16, 2017 - House GOP leaders hope to move a fiscal 2018 budget agreement that aims to cut $10 billion by tightening work requirements on food stamp recipients, but House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway says he intends to “recycle” any such savings back into the program.

Budget Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., who will releases the budget blueprint on Tuesday, has faced stiff resistance from some conservatives who want deeper cuts in food stamps and other welfare programs.

Conaway, R-Texas, has declined to reveal the size of the proposed reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, citing an agreement with Black. But other sources have confirmed the number.

It’s unlikely that the Senate would agree to a $10 billion cut in SNAP and may oppose any reduction in the program. But Black has been under heavy pressure from conservatives to include cuts in mandatory spending programs, including SNAP, totaling at least $200 billion.

Conaway, meanwhile, has been walking a political tightrope on the issue. He needed to agree to some kind of reduction in SNAP for the budget resolution to show that he was being cooperative. Conaway has strongly denied allegations by conservatives that he has refused to cut SNAP. At the same time, he had to resist a larger cut in the program or else risk alienating the urban lawmakers he will need later to pass a farm bill.

Conaway said he has assured fellow Republicans that his committee will tighten SNAP work requirements. But he also said Friday that he intends to plow the savings back into the program to provide transitional incentives to low-income people who would otherwise abruptly lose their food stamps if they were take a pay raise or get a job.

“I hope that is appealing to those who don’t really want any cuts to food stamps,” Conaway said.

The House budget resolution will do nothing to address another huge challenge for Conaway: Finding the money to address demands to expand support for cotton and dairy producers and to shore up the Agriculture Risk Coverage program.

The budget resolution is crucial to GOP plans to enact tax reform later in this Congress. Passage of a budget resolution allows Republicans to use the budget reconciliation process to move a tax bill that won’t need Democratic votes to pass the Senate.

“If you want tax reform, you’re not going to get it unless you get that budget,” said one senior Republican, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. He said there was “more passion” among Republicans for cutting taxes than for enacting health care reform, which is now in limbo in the Senate. “There is a sense that the most important thing for the country is to move faster economically,” he said.

Even as Republicans struggle to agree on a budget resolution, they are also making plans to move their fiscal 2018 spending bills across the House floor. GOP leaders are considering rolling most of the agency bills, including the measure that funds USDA and FDA, into a single, omnibus bill for floor consideration.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY18 Agriculture bill last week and on Tuesday will consider the Interior-Environment bill that funds the Interior Department, Forest Service and EPA.

Meanwhile this week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to release as early as Monday a plan for renegotiating the North American Free-Trade Agreement.

Farm groups will be looking for provisions promising to protect existing agricultural trade and address the dairy dispute with Canada as well as biotech issues and rules for geographic indications. One source familiar with the plan, however, told Agri-Pulse that it was likely to be fairly bare bones.

The House Ways and Means Committee will have a hearing Tuesday on the NAFTA negotiation.

Monday is the deadline to provide answers to a series of 30 questions posed by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on the biotech food disclosure rules required by a 2016 law.

The answers will help shape the disclosure requirements under a law enacted last year to preempt state GMO labeling laws.

Among the questions: What terms should be considered interchangeable with ‘bioengineering,” the term that is used in the disclosure law.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, July 17

Deadline for providing answers to questions posed by USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service on biotech food disclosure.

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

7 p.m. - House Appropriations Committee marks up the fiscal 2018 Transportation-HUD bill, 2359 Rayburn.

Tuesday, July 18

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on “pathways to success for SNAP households,” 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on modernizing the North American Free-Trade Agreement, 1300 Longworth.

10:30 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee marks up the FY18 Homeland Security and Interior-Environment bills, 2359 Rayburn.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee marks up its FY18 spending bill, 124 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the status of and outlook for U.S. energy security, 366 Dirksen.

2 p.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on implementation of the Global Food Security Act, 2172 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee marks up FY18 spending bill, 138 Dirksen.

Wednesday, July 19

National Corn Growers Association’s annual Corn Congress, through Thursday, Capital Hilton.

9 a.m. - U.S. Chamber of Commerce Food Forward Summit on the future of food, 1615 H St. NW.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the state of infrastructure in rural America, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee marks up the State-Foreign Operations and Labor-HHS bills, 2359 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing on bills involving the Endangered Species Act, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing for three nominees to the Federal Communications Commission, G50 Dirksen.

Noon - House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, 2167 Rayburn.

2 p.m. - House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on agricultural guest workers, 2141 Rayburn.

Thursday, July 20

NCGA Corn Congress.

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

10 a.m. - House Small Business subcommittee hearing, “21st Century Medicine: How Telehealth Can Help Rural Communities,” 2360 Rayburn.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee marks up the FY18 Agriculture and Energy-Water spending bills, 106 Dirksen.

Friday, July 21

(Updated July 17.)


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