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President Donald Trump signed the new farm bill into law at a White House ceremony Dec. 20, celebrating what Trump said was “a really tremendous victory for the American farmer, ranchers, agriculture—incredible people.

“Very important. We’ve been working long and hard on this one.”

In an apparent reference to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Trump said, “We were hearing it might not be able to pass this year, but I didn’t want to talk to Pat about that, so we passed it.”

Earlier in his remarks, Trump set off a roll call of mostly Republican members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees who surrounded him on the stage of Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium for the signing ceremony.

Members of several large farm groups were also on the stage, as well as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Among those seated in the audience was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who made himself a part of the farm bill conference committee to ensure provisions legalizing the production of industrial hemp were included in the bill.

“Through fires, floods and freezing weather, we will always stand with American farmers,” Trump said. “With the passage of the farm bill, we are delivering to the farmers and ranchers, who are the heart and soul of America, all sorts of things that they never even thought possible. We are ensuring that American agriculture will always feed our families, nourish our communities, power our commerce and inspire our nation.”

Trump also noted that it was Perdue’s 72nd birthday.

“You planned that out, probably like you do everything else,” Trump said to laughter in the auditorium. “Happy birthday. This is the best—this is the best birthday present you could have, I think.

Perdue said in his remarks he was wearing his lucky tractor tie that he’d worn to his job interview in November 2016.

“Mr. President, it is a great birthday present not only for me, but for all of agriculture, to give the producers, the ranchers and farmers across America the peace of mind,” Perdue said. “Going forward, they can make their plans in 2019; make their lenders and bankers proud of what they can plan for.

“The underpinning of the safety net of crop insurance—those kind of things—is a big deal for agriculture. It’s a big deal for the U.S. economy, the ag economy, for food security and for national security.”

Food stamps

Trump also told the gathering how he had directed Perdue to use his authority under the law to tighten work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Under this new rule, able-bodied adults without dependents will have to work, or look for work, in order to receive their food stamps. Today’s action will help Americans transition from welfare to gainful employment, strengthening families and uplifting communities,” Trump said.

“And that was a difficult thing to get done, but the farmers wanted it done; we all wanted it done. And I think, in the end, it’s going to make a lot of people very happy. It’s called “work rules.” And Sonny is able, under this bill, to implement them through regulation.”

Work provisions

Those persons under the proposed restrictions—which remain subject to a rule-making process—will be required to work or be in job training at least 20 hours a week to receive SNAP benefits, unless they live in a state or area that has a waiver from USDA.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, successfully fought off pressure from House Republicans and the White House to write the tougher waiver rules into the farm bill.

Interestingly, Trump picked Stabenow out of the crowd of officials for credit.

“She’s tough, I can tell you. We competed with her,” Trump said. “She’s tough and she’s smart, and does a great job. Thank you very much, Debbie. Really good job.”

In the early stages of his speech, Trump deviated from the original purpose of his signing the farm bill to praise his son-in-law and daughter for helping to move a criminal justice reform bill forward.

He then offered a lengthy segment to tell Congress that he wanted $5 billion for “metal slats” along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to get his signature on a continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 8.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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