Both the House and Senate finally have announced their respective conference committees for the farm bill, and now those appointed members are tasked with ironing out the differences between the bills. NGFA reported the Senate conferees earlier, while House recently announced its conferees. For the majority, they are:
- House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla.,
- Steve King, R-Iowa,
- Michael Conaway, R-Texas,
- Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.,
- Austin Scott, R-Ga.,
- Rick Crawford, R-Ark.,
- Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas,
- Mike Rogers, R-Ala.,
- Martha Roby, R-Ala.,
- Kristi Noem, R-S.D.,
- Jeff Denham, R-Calif.,
- Rodney Davis, R-Ill.,
- Ed Royce, R-Calif,
- Tom Marino, R-Pa.,
- House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.,
- Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and
- Steve Southerland, R-Fla.
The conferees for the minority are:
- Collin Peterson, D-Minn.;
- Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.;
- Jim Costa, D-Calif.;
- Tim Walz, D-Minn.;
- Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.;
- Jim McGovern, D-Mass.;
- Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.;
- Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
- House Ways & Means Ranking member Committee Sander Levin, D-Mich.
- Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif.; and
- Filemon Vela, D-Texas.
(Royce, Engel and Marino were named for provisions of the bill for which the House Foreign Affairs Committee shares jurisdiction. And Camp, Levin and Johnson were named for portions of the bill under the Ways and Means Committee.)
This week, Agriculture Committee leaders, Lucas, Peterson, and Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., gathered to discuss the outline of the conference committee. According to reports, they instructed their staffs to continue working on the commodity title, which has vast differences between the House and Senate approach to the farm safety net. In addition, according to congressional sources, it is likely the full conference committee will conduct its first official meeting sometime before Nov. 1 – depending on the congressional calendar. When the conference committee does meet, there will be plenty of differences to sort out between the two chambers. For example: target prices, dairy programs, payment limitations, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and disaster and nutrition programs.
Commodity Programs/Target Prices
As mentioned previously, the commodity title varies greatly between the two bills. On one hand, there are members such as Stabenow and Roberts who have been adamantly opposed to high fixed target prices being tied to actual plantings. In fact, Roberts has expressed his belief that having high fixed target prices is akin to turning the clock back 30 years in farm policy. But the House target price program will have many supporters in the conference. In what will likely amount to a regional battle over how to shape the farm safety net, Lucas has many southern members from both chambers who likely will support him on the target price issue. One wild card in the fight over how to shape the commodity title could be the inclusion in the conference committee of Camp and Levin from Ways and Means Committee, who are in charge of international trade policy in the House. If Chairman Camp and Ranking Member Levin make a strong push to keep farm programs compliant with the United States’ World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments, it could present a real challenge for supporters tying commodity programs to actual plantings, as those types of programs have a long history of raising WTO concerns.
For Peterson, a primary focus will undoubtedly be on getting the dairy program he has spent so much time working on over the last two years. Ironically, the program he wants is in the Senate version, not the House, which stripped his program when it was considered on the floor. He will be working with his allies on the Senate side, such as Leahy, to implement supply controls in the dairy program.
As for payment limitations, when the House agreed to go to conference it also passed a nonbinding resolution urging its conferees to support adjusted gross income limitations on crop insurance premium subsidies, limitations that are contained in the Senate bill. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., sponsored the resolution, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., advanced the Senate language. However, neither are conferees, so it remains to be seen whether any of the conferees will champion the cause for this provision, which Lucas and Conaway staunchly oppose.
Conservation Reserve Program
NGFA was pleased to see Rep. Roby on the list of conferees. Roby led the charge in the House on getting the CRP acreage cap reduced to 24 million acres. NGFA is continuing to work with Roby and other members to advance CRP reforms, which will allow the program to serve the important function of protecting sensitive land while curbing the incentivisation of idling land that is well-suited for crop production.
Another issue that certainly will move to the forefront as farmers and other stakeholders wait for a farm bill to be passed will be the livestock disaster assistance program. With the recent blizzard in South Dakota killing somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 cattle, getting a robust and effective livestock disaster assistance program will almost certainly be a hot topic for members such as Noem.
Then there is the issue many expect to be the toughest of all for conferees to navigate — nutrition programs. The Senate bill cuts $4 billion from the food stamp program while the House bill cuts $39 billion. The challenge for the conferees will be to find the right balance between the Senate and House savings numbers, but still result in a final farm bill that can pass both chambers. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, who is the top Democrat on the House Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition programs, has been an outspoken critic of the nutrition program cuts in the House bill and certainly will work with Senate Democrats to try to limit the cuts to food stamps. On the other side of the issue, the fact that House Republican leadership placed Southerland on the conference committee shows just how big of a priority it is for them to push for more meaningful cuts than what the Senate has proposed. Southerland sponsored a food stamp reform amendment (requiring recipients to either be looking for work or be undergoing education toward attaining a job) that House Democrats blame for the failure of the farm bill on the House floor earlier this summer. It is quite possible that even if the conference committee can find some middle ground on food stamp cuts, it may not be acceptable to the rest of their congressional colleagues, and cause the farm bill to stall yet again.