Conaway’s farm bill triumph – POLITICO

 In Politics

With Catherine Boudreau, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Megan Cassella and Sabrina Rodriguez

CONAWAY’S FARM BILL TRIUMPH: House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway pulled it off — and fittingly, too, with H.R. 2 passing by a two-vote margin. The Texas Republican succeeded in passing a Republican-only farm bill for the first time in history. The vote was dramatic — it wasn’t clear for several minutes whether the bill would pass or fail. Democrats and Republicans logged their votes at almost the same pace, and farm bill watchers held their breath as the vote count stayed at 211-211 for what felt like minutes. When the gavel went down on the 213-211 vote, Republicans in the chamber cheered with a palpable sense of relief.

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Eight big flips: House Freedom Caucus support was essential. Twenty Republicans joined with Democrats in opposing the bill, but eight Freedom Caucus members flipped their votes from last month and voted in favor, including caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

Looking toward conference: Once the Senate approves its own farm bill, which is widely expected to happen next week, lawmakers from both chambers will have to confront the difficult task of melding two very different bills in conference. Following Thursday’s vote, Conaway acknowledged to reporters that he realizes his entire farm bill wish list won’t be featured in the final version. But he’s holding onto hope that stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients — the chief policy priority in H.R. 2 (115) — will make it into the conference report. President Donald Trump gave off the impression on Twitter that he feels that way, too.

One point of unison: Ag leaders certainly agree on one thing: They all want to get the farm bill done fast, because the Sept. 30 deadline will arrive quickly. A missed deadline could be a liability for Republicans heading into the midterms, and no farm-state Democrat wants to campaign without a farm bill with the potential that tit-for-tat trade retaliation will be wreaking further havoc for producers in the fall.

“We’re not going to be any smarter in October than we are in August or September. So putting it off is not really useful,” Conaway said, adding that House and Senate staffers are likely to begin negotiations as soon as the Senate version clears.

Mending fences: The bitter House farm bill battle left behind a smoldering relationship between the House Ag Committee’s leaders. Ranking member Collin Peterson avoided reporters after the vote, issuing a statement that again criticized H.R. 2 as “a bill that simply doesn’t do enough for the people it’s supposed to serve.” That relationship may need to be mended for lawmakers to be able to reach a consensus in conference, as Peterson has said he plans to play for the Senate side during those talks.

Conaway had some predictions as to how he thinks Peterson will approach negotiations, saying: “My guess is Collin will weigh in on behalf of the production of agriculture in the way he has always done.” Conaway added that he thinks Democrats also have some provisions in the bill they’ll want to protect.

Twitter check: Rachel Millard, the House Agriculture Committee’s press secretary, tweeted a photo of Conaway chatting with Rep. Frank Lucas. “Conference war gaming?” she wrote. She also tweeted a pic of Conaway enjoying what appeared to be a small glass of celebratory wine. (Hey, he earned it!)

Morning reads: Pro Ag’s Catherine Boudreau has our wrap on the vote here. And don’t miss this analysis from Pro Ag’s Liz Crampton and Helena Bottemiller Evich.

HAPPY FRIDAY, JUNE 22! Welcome to Morning Ag, where we find that after a frenzied week of ag news in Washington, this video of how Tabasco sauce is made is surprisingly soothing. Send your news tips to [email protected] or @liz_crampton, and [email protected] or @chaughney. Follow the whole team: @Morning_Ag.

SENATE FARM BILL ACTION IS ON FOR NEXT WEEK: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday set in motion the process for considering the farm bill on the floor next week. Around 6 p.m. Monday, the Senate will hold a procedural vote on the motion to proceed to the legislation, which may pave the way for debate.

CBO breaks down the numbers: Also on Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office posted its analysis of the Senate farm bill, shedding light on the cost of making changes to commodity, conservation, nutrition, trade and other policy, Catherine reports.

Commodity title: Under the Senate bill, the dairy industry would see an additional $200 million in support over a decade, as would row crop farmers participating in Agriculture Risk Coverage, which shields against drops in revenue. But overall spending on the commodity title is expected to be about $400 million less than current law, primarily due to the elimination of “economic adjustment assistance” for the cotton industry and a proposal to reduce the means test that determines eligibility for crop subsidies from $900,000 to $700,000 in adjusted gross income.

Conservation title: Total spending on conservation programs would hold steady over 10 years, though the amount allocated to different initiatives would shift around. Annual acreage enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program would drop, saving about $1 billion, while funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program would decrease by $1.5 billion. But proposed funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program would increase by about $2.5 billion combined.

Nutrition title: The Senate bill makes few changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Some of the administrative changes that Senate Agriculture Committee leaders have proposed would save money, while others would drive up costs. For example, states would be required to use a national database to prevent SNAP participants from receiving benefits from more than one state at a time — reducing spending by an estimated $588 million over a decade. Meanwhile, boosting a grant program that funds incentives to food stamp recipients who purchase fruits and vegetables would see a $400 million bump.

** A message from the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy: We believe farmers and families depending on food manufacturing workers should be central to this country’s ongoing conversation on agriculture policy. Thousands of small, family-owned businesses think so too. Shouldn’t sugar processors agree that farmers and food manufacturing workers are integral to the 2018 Farm Bill? Learn more at **

TRUMP WANTS TO SHAKE UP FOOD SAFETY, SNAP: In a sweeping proposal the administration officially released on Thursday, food safety oversight would be shifted from the FDA to the USDA, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would move from USDA to a newly renamed version of HHS, your host reports. Many of the major changes outlined in the proposal would require approval by Congress, so it’s no safe bet any of this will come to fruition.

Why the changes? The administration said the shakeup hopes to fix the problem of food safety oversight being divided between too many agencies — something public health advocates have long complained about. And SNAP now will be placed with other safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The report contends the changes would smooth coordination with state governments, which now have to work with both USDA and HHS. States typically administer these benefits from a single agency.

Bad news for USDA’s stature: Losing SNAP to HHS would mark a clear loss for USDA since the food stamp program, which helps more than 40 million Americans buy groceries each week, represents about three-quarters of USDA’s budget.

The view from food safety circles: Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts, warns that merging the inspection practices of USDA and FDA is a major task. She noted that USDA still follows its century-old approach and inspects beef on a carcass-by-carcass basis. While FDA inspections take place no less than every three years, “the nature and frequency of inspection is widely different,” said Eskin. “Before you go there, you need to modernize the meat and poultry laws because they are very antiquated and, in many instances, they aren’t aligned with the food safety authorities of FDA.”

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