Farm bill floats along in Congress
The march to a farm bill has continued this week, as the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to go to conference with the House on a farm bill, working to find and iron out differences between the bills of the two chambers.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said he believes they remain on schedule to meet the Sept. 30 deadline for a bill to be passed. That's when the current farm bill will expire.
"Clearly, there are some differences that you have to reconcile and find a bill that both chambers are going to be able to pass and put on the president's desk," Thune told The Daily Republic on Wednesday. "Right now, we're on schedule to make the Sept. 30 deadline. I feel good about the bill that the Senate has put together. It's a pro-farmer, pro-agriculture bill that protects the people and the industry that is the backbone of our country."
Thune said it's not likely he will be on the conference committee for the bill. But he said he would like to see the amendments to keep the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs in place. The same can be said for haying and grazing flexibility on Conservation Reserve Program lands and wetlands management provisions, he said.
"Those are things that we want to protect and is what's really needed among the farmers that we talk to," Thune said.
The conferencing of the two farm bills will likely be easier said than done. The House version includes work requirements and tightens eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which has consisted of 75 percent of the federal dollars in legislation. The Senate's version had fewer cuts to conservation programs and rejected the cuts to SNAP.
"We don't have that in our bill and it's a big point of the debate," Thune said of the Senate.
Hanging over the discussion on the farm bill is the increased talk about foreign trade and the impacts from tariff talk from President Donald Trump.
"I think that the most important thing in the world of tariffs and trade issues is that the farm bill represents a good strong safety net," Thune said. "Just making sure we have stabilizers there in the event that the ag economy sort of limps along and when you look at the commodity prices that look like they do now. With tariffs and trade, you have to demonstrate the importance to farmers and ranchers and provide that protection."
Coincidentally, the Sept. 30 appropriations deadline for the farm bill is the same as the deadline for a looming government shutdown. Remaining committed to funding his border wall, President Donald Trump said twice this week that a government shutdown would be a worthwhile step if it meant funding the wall. That could affect the farm bill, if the deadlines creep close.
Thune said he doesn't take Trump's threat too seriously.
"I still think that's more positioning on the part of the administration," Thune said. "We're doing our work and we'll get as many appropriations done by that deadline. My guess is that we won't have every bill done but for every appropriation that we get done, the leverage for a government shutdown decreases.
"There will be some (funding) in the Homeland Security appropriation," Thune added. "There won't be as much as the President wants. ... You're not going to get a lot of Democrat support for wall funding but I think you can get some. I think this will be a place where the president will have to take wins where he can get them."