The U.S. House of Representatives went out of session Sept. 28, eliminating any possibility that Congress would finish the conference report on the farm bill and vote on it before the Nov. 6 election.
The House was scheduled to be in session parts of two weeks in October, but Republican members fearful of their election prospects convinced the House leadership to let them go home to campaign.
The 2014 farm bill expired Sept. 30, leaving 39 farm programs unauthorized and inactive. Some of the programs were big, like the Foreign Market Development program used to promote sales of United States commodities overseas.
Others, as Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has said, are mostly small “orphan” programs left without funding and others without implementing authority. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken steps to wind down some of these programs and lay off some office staff temporarily, both at USDA’s Washington headquarters and in the field.
For example, USDA’s Farm Service Agency has issued a directive to state and county offices to stop finalizing new contracts or accepting applications for the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, since they are only authorized to operate for fiscal years 2014 through 2018, which means that though these programs have over $1 billion in funding for fiscal year 2019, USDA does not have the legal authority to use it absent a short-term farm bill extension.
Programs to aid military veterans entering farming, and various rural development programs—such as small business loan servicing—have been shut down with the farm bill’s expiration.
Major farm and nutrition programs will continue and crop insurance is permanently authorized under separate legislation.
Roberts, along with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-TX; and Ranking Members Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI; and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, met prior to the House recess and released a statement on progress of the 2018 farm bill, saying, “Each of us is still at the negotiating table, and we remain committed to working together on a farm bill. Our conversations are productive, and progress toward an agreement is taking shape. We are going to get this right.”
Politico reported Roberts said the trade aid program established by the Trump administration could be used for that program until a new farm bill is passed, but USDA has said it will not award money until January and those funds are expected to be for programs, not staffing and office costs.
For now, action on the farm bill won’t take place until Congress returns for a lame duck session following the election.
“All of us regret where we are,” Roberts said after a recent meeting with the top negotiators from the two chambers, according to a report in Roll Call. “I know farmers and ranchers and growers out there say, ‘What on earth are you guys doing?’ Well, if you look at what’s in the bills you see stark differences of opinion.”
Conaway said Sept. 28, “Every time we get to this gamesmanship, whoever is doing the negotiations, it (the farm bill) expires and somehow magically in the next three months it gets done. All 12 titles are wide open.”
In a House Agriculture Committee video released Sept. 29, Conaway said when people call for a farm bill extension it “means they have given up. I hate giving up. I don’t like people who give up.” While he said there are legitimate policy differences among the top negotiators, Conaway said the House had a greater sense of urgency in making hard choices than his Senate colleagues.
“There are major sticking points of equal weight in several titles,” Conaway said.
Pretty much everyone negotiating to create a compromise farm bill agree that while there’s plenty to disagree about throughout both house’s versions, the major remaining challenge is coming to an agreement on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program policy, including work requirements and waivers.
“I think if we could get the waiver challenge behind us, working with the administration, that would be very helpful. If we do that, I think we could get ourselves to a farm bill,” Roberts told Politico.
The House is scheduled to return Nov. 13.
Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.