Senate finally votes to conference farm bill
With help from Liz Crampton, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Megan Cassella, Maya Parthasarathy and Daniel Lippman
SENATE FINALLY VOTES TO CONFERENCE FARM BILL: The Senate moved to conference the farm bill via voice vote Tuesday night –– after lots of back-door wrangling over last-minute issues over many days. Next up will be the announcement of Senate conferees who will join the 47 House members already named to the committee. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said Tuesday that nine lawmakers will serve on the panel, broken down into five Republicans and four Democrats.
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Reconciling competing approaches to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program promises to be the toughest task facing conference negotiators, who will also have to contend with differences between the bills on conservation programs and subsidies.
McConnell hopes for ambitious timeline: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he’d like to see a farm bill conference report ready after Labor Day. That would give lawmakers just over a month to finalize the legislation, and there’s a lot of work left to do. Senate and House leaders are “committed to staying in touch, although they are taking a six-week break,” referring to the House’s August recess that began last week, he said.
Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) appeared slightly caught off-guard when asked about McConnell’s marching orders.
“Duly noted,” Roberts said, adding that committee staff has been working overtime on “all the paperwork.” “We’re going to get it done as quickly as we can,” Stabenow said. Pro Ag’s Liz Crampton has more.
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VOTERS, ESPECIALLY IN RURAL AREAS, BACK FARMER AID: Nearly six in 10 voters surveyed say they favor President Donald Trump’s plan to offer $12 billion in federal aid to U.S. farmers and ranchers suffering as a result of the administration’s tariffs and subsequent trade retaliation, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll finds.
By the numbers: The survey of nearly 2,000 registered voters showed that 57 percent either somewhat or strongly support the farmer aid package, which USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue rolled out last week.
Support was also particularly strong among rural voters, 63 percent of whom reacted favorably to the plan.
Mixed feelings: Producers from Illinois, California and North Dakota have told POLITICO the $12 billion package is an overdue acknowledgement from the Trump administration that its trade battles with China and other U.S. trading partners is inflicting real damage to their bottom lines. But they’ve repeatedly said they’d prefer to get their money by selling their products in open markets.
Free trade, with a caveat: Respondents to the poll appeared to generally lean in favor of free trade. More than two in five responded that free trade agreements have had a somewhat or very positive impact on the U.S., while roughly one-quarter said trade deals have harmed the country.
But nearly half of respondents, or 48 percent, also supported the use of tariffs on foreign goods that compete with goods made in the U.S. In contrast, 32 percent said they somewhat or strongly oppose imposing tariffs on foreign-made goods the compete with American-made products. Pro Trade’s Megan Cassella has more.
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TALES FROM THE TRADE-WAR FRONT: Even though farmers are getting aid, many other segments of the U.S. economy have tales of woe they’ve shared with lawmakers. And members in Congress, in turn, have described the harm on constituents.
Chicken farmers in Delaware, for instance, had been finally able to reap the rewards of a trade after South Africa agreed to remove barriers to U.S. poultry exports. Now all that progress is at risk because Trump hit South Africa with tariffs on its steel exports, said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
“I had a very difficult meeting with their trade minister,” Coons said. “They’re going to be justified in imposing countervailing duties that may well close the door to this newly opened market for our poultry.”
Hurt for generations: Farmers just starting out are already seeing the economic strains that a life in agriculture can have. The trade war is just compounding the challenges, several farmers have said.
“For young and beginning farmers like me the stakes are even higher,” Michelle Erickson-Jones, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, said in testimony. “We are often highly leveraged, just establishing our operations, as well trying to ensure we have access to enough capital to successfully grow our operations. Increased trade tensions and market uncertainty makes our path forward and our hopes to pass the farm on to our sons less clear.”
Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer rounded up several real-life stories of farmers, seafood firms, food manufacturers and small businesses who have directly seen the effects that the trade war is having on their businesses. Read more here.
Farmers who may be left out of aid: Several Republican House members from California (as well as several Democrats) are appealing to the Trump administration to ensure that specialty crops are not left out of trade aid.
Trump has focused most of his attention on the Midwest, but some blue-leaning states like California also heavily rely on farming and agriculture to feed Americans and the world.