Farm bill conference strikes compromise

The House will vote Wednesday on a five-year farm bill unveiled by House and Senate negotiators from both parties on Monday night.

House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorTrump allies warn: No compromise on immigration Chamber of Commerce overhauls lobbying operation Laura Ingraham under consideration for White House press secretary MORE (R-Va.) said he would personally support the compromise bill, giving it further momentum ahead of the House vote.

The bill includes nearly $1 trillion in funding for agriculture subsidy, crop insurance and food stamp programs over the next 10 years.

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It would reduce food stamp funding by about $8 billion, much less than what Cantor and other House Republicans had demanded.

Overall, the bill is expected to save $23 billion over 10 years compared to existing funding.  

“Despite the Senate's unwillingness to challenge the status-quo and include all of the critical reforms to important programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the finalized Farm Bill will include a new initiative that allows states to implement work requirements for able-bodied adults as well as initiatives to help move individuals from dependence to self-sufficiency and independence,” Cantor said in praising the measure. 

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run MORE (R-Ohio) said he also supports the farm bill.

“I have voted against the last two Farm Bills because, in my view, they made farm and food stamp policy worse rather than better. This legislation, however, is worthy of the House’s support,” he said. 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) touted the bill’s “significant savings and reforms” in a statement. 

“We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers, and those who have hit difficult time,” he said. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowSenate Dems may block water bill over drought language Congress strikes deal on water bill with Flint aid Overnight Energy: Opponents aim to tie up Dakota pipeline for years | Gore meets Trump MORE (D-Mich.) said the bill “saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety-net and helps farmers and businesses create jobs."

Although House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said he did not support all of the provisions, he also announced he will vote for it. His support brings a significant contingent of rural Democrats that could be necessary for the bill’s passage this week.

“While it’s no secret that I do not support some of the final bill’s provisions, I believe my reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs. This process has been going on far too long,” he said. 

Peterson's support comes after a compromise was found on dairy subsidies and dairy lobbyists voiced their support. The compromise discourages milk overproduction by limiting how much milk can be insured in the future and also has a provision allowing the Agriculture Department to buy up some excess production. 

Farm lobbyists backing the bill said they would work overtime to get it approved by both chambers. Opponents include some House conservatives and the meat processing industry.

But in another hopeful sign for the bill, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), a member of the conference committee and top proponent of new food stamp restrictions, said he would support the bill. 

“Some of the reforms in this farm bill are fantastic,” he said in reference to provisions affecting food stamps, dairy programs and direct payments. “You’ve got to crawl before you walk and walk before you can run.”

The House bill had initially made a $39 billion cut to the food stamp programs.

The food stamps cuts are achieved, as expected, by making it more difficult to qualify for nutrition assistance by virtue of receiving home heating aid. The threshold is raised to $20 per month from $1 per month. The bill contains funding for a new pilot program aimed at encouraging able-bodied recipients to find work and more than $200 million more for food banks. 

Southerland said after leaving Boehner’s office on Monday that the Speaker appeared to be onboard with a compromise on the dairy program after demanding changes to an earlier draft.

“We believe the Speaker is satisfied with the dairy [provision],” Southerland said.

Boehner forbade any dairy reform containing milk supply management from inclusion in the bill. The compromise bill does not contain the management mechanism in the Senate bill but has other "tweaks" meant to address overproduction concerns, sources said. 

On farm subsidies, the bill offers producers a choice between a shallow loss revenue insurance long favored by Northern crop growers and price-based supports supported by those in the South. The target prices for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) option are the same as in the House-passed farm bill. The Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program is triggered when revenue falls below 86 percent, up from 85 percent in the House bill and down from 89 percent in the Senate bill. 

Negotiators have altered payment limit provisions contained in both the House and Senate farm bills. The limits are now capped at $125,000 per individual or $250,000 per couple, but caps within that total for PLC, ARC or marketing loan deficiency payments have been removed.

The compromise also changes restrictions on the so-called “actively engaged” provision. The criteria for management has been strengthened compared to current law, a source said, but the provision appears to be scaled back from the labor requirement in the earlier versions of the bills.

The bill resolves a long-running dispute over whether commodity subsidies should be tied to current production or historical production. With a number of caveats, it ties subsidies to historical production but allows famers to update their "base acres" once in the life of the farm bill. Critics of the original House bill had said linking support to current production would distort trade and invited retaliation.

The 2008 farm bill expired on Oct. 1 and, without a new measure, spring planting decisions are up in the air. The Agriculture Department technically should now be enforcing a reversion to 1949 law that would spike milk prices.

A top agriculture lobbyist sounded upbeat Monday but not 100 percent sure of passage.

“I think there is real progress, but we have a lot of work to do before this comes to the House floor,” the lobbyist said. 

Part of the concern erupted due to a fight over two livestock provisions not included in the bill.

Meat and poultry lobbyists vowed to oppose the farm bill on Monday, after two of their core priorities were left on the cutting room floor.

Language aimed at curtailing a meat country-of-origin labeling (MCOOL) requirement and one aimed at restricting activities by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) was left out. The development was supported by growers but opposed by processors.

Senate negotiators won on MCOOL and GIPSA and also prevailed by keeping out of the bill an amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) aimed at stopping California from banning eggs hatched from hens in tiny battery cages.

In another last minute decision, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) succeeded in keeping in place a catfish inspection program that importers and Vietnam have called an illegal trade barrier.  

— This story was updated at 7:20 p.m.