Why the Farm Bill’s first attempt failed

Now for a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the 2018 Farm Bill in the U.S. House.

To put it simply, the collapse seems to have begun in House Republican leadership’s approach, which was to press work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, obligating “able-bodied” individuals receiving food stamps to work 20 hours per week, a measure extremely unpopular with Democrats.

Other Side of Texas looked back at when and where work requirements became polarizing in the process. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), a ranking member on the House Committee on Agriculture gave little notice of being adverse to work requirements up until March 8, when he appeared American Ag Network and announced a Democratic “revolt.” An announcement that Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) kindly repudiated Peterson in a statement the following day, implying Democratic leadership obstruction. “I have worked with Collin every step of the way on the Farm Bill draft,” Conaway prefaced, before he laid down the heat. “I understand that this is an even numbered year and that some in the Democratic leadership may not want to allow Congress to get its work done in order to score points in the fall and they will look for any excuse.” (House Republicans have turned up the heat since then.)

What therefore turned into a go-it-alone strategy required almost all 235 House GOP lawmakers to vote for the proposal and withstand a unified Democratic revolt.

However, what seems to have doomed the strategy seems was an underestimation of some two-dozen GOP Freedom Caucus members to leverage farm policy for immigration reform.

In the end, the Freedom Caucus voted with Democrats and the Farm Bill’s first attempt failed 198-213.

POLITICO’s senior food and agriculture reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich, appearing the May 24 OSTX episode, said could not find single roll call vote on a major successful agriculture bill that didn’t include bipartisan votes. The aim of the Freedom Caucus, she said, is to force an immigration vote in June on proposals much more stringent than moderate alternatives. The vote isn’t expected to pass, but the political point is to take up measures before leadership heeds a bipartisan petition to address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation.

But the current shape of the Farm Bill isn’t just a problem for the House.

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Foresty Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has indicated that in order to secure 60 Farm Bill votes in the higher chamber—where 51 Republicans hold the majority— the bill couldn’t include SNAP work requirements.

Evich added that even if the House and Senate reconsider and pass respective versions of the Farm Bill, by a deadline of June 22, it’s unlikely the lower chamber would be amenable to the version that comes back from conference committee.

The House’s 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, which isn’t a long time on Capitol Hill.

And the longer the calendar creeps through a hot summer with combustible issues, the more the next Farm Bill becomes vulnerable to politics leading into the November general elections.

You can hear the full OSTX interview with Evich below.


Jay Leeson’s Other Side of Texas can be heard weekdays 5-6pm on KRFE AM 580 Lubbock, streaming on OtherSideofTexas.com and Apple podcasts here

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