Midterm Results Support Renewed Effort to Finish 2018 Farm Bill

While the results of the Congressional mid-term elections on Tuesday had been widely expected, they should accelerate efforts by Agriculture Committee leaders to finish the 2018 Farm Bill before the 115th Congress adjourns in December.

In the Senate, the net addition of two or possibly three Republican seats will not affect the need for a supermajority of 60 votes, or the historic bipartisan vote of 86 to 11 for the bill reported by the Agriculture Committee in July.

In the House, Republicans are concerned by the prospect of Democrats writing a much different farm bill in 2019 to replace the legislation passed on strict party-line votes by the Agriculture Committee and on the floor.

Any leverage they had before the mid-terms to tighten work and eligibility requirements for the SNAP (food stamp) program in negotiations with the Senate has been lost, although President Trump stated on Wednesday that he still wants tougher work rules.  However, Chairman Conaway is expected to work to find compromises, not only on SNAP but on Title I (commodities) and Title II (conservation).

A provision in the House bill would eliminate Title I (PLC and county ARC) payments for farms on which base acres were not planted to program crops in any year between 2009 and 2017.  Savings from disqualifying these unassigned base acres would be used to allow farmers who experienced exceptional drought for 20 consecutive weeks in 2008-12 to update their program payment yields under ARC-CO and PLC using 2013-17 data.

This provision would benefit farmers in 417 counties in Texas and in neighboring states, and Conaway has been locked in a disagreement with Senate Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) over whether the savings should be spent on other programs.

Faced with a deadline to either finish a new farm bill in December or extend the recently-expired 2014 Agricultural Act for one year or longer, Conaway is expected to seek a compromise that breaks the deadlock and moves the bill forward over the next month.

Congress will return after Thanksgiving to pass spending bills that will keep the government running after the current Continuing Resolution expires on Dec. 7.  While they may decide to add two weeks before adjourning, there will be pressure to simply extend the 2014 Farm Bill if the Agriculture Committees can’t resolve their differences.

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