Farm bill conference committee named, must find compromise on SNAP reform
REDWOOD COUNTY, Minn. — Farmers and farm groups across the country are closely watching the progress of the farm bill, especially now that the conference committee has been named. The committee includes 9 members from the Senate and 47 members from the House. With wide differences in the House and Senate versions in several areas, the question is how do the two versions get melded into one? The sticking points remain payment limits, Conservation Reserve Program payments and acreage caps. And of course, the big one is reform of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Congressman and House Ag Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) says the nutrition title fight will make or break the conference process as Chairman Mike Conaway included work provisions for SNAP entitlement that he and other Democrats oppose. "The biggest stumbling block if we don't get a bill is because of food stamps. The Senate is not going to do what the House wants and I told Conaway that two months ago," Peterson says.
However, Peterson says the four principals, or leaders of the Senate and House Ag Committees, have agreed to compromise. "The four of us have all, you know made a commitment that we're going to try to figure out how to resolve our differences and get this done," he says.
Minnesota Senator and Senate Ag Committee member Amy Klobuchar (D) says the answer is the Senate farm bill, where they saved a billion dollars in the nutrition area. "We found a way to save a billion dollars on the farm bill in the nutrition area," she says. "One by cutting back on some bonuses that were given to vendors that was $500 million and then another $500 million that was due to double benefits."
Congressman Tim Walz (D-Minn.) serves on the House Ag Committee and was also named to the conference committee, but says he is disappointed with the overall makeup of the groups because he says that was a highly political process. In fact, North Dakota's entire Congressional delegation was named to the committee, while lawmakers from other key farm states were noticeably excluded. "I don't know if we have a whole lot of geographic balance. I don't think we have a whole lot of commodity balance in some of this and that's not the way it's supposed to be done," Walz says.
However, Peterson says who is named to the conference committee doesn't really matter in the long run. 'The conferees that are on the bill outside of the committee have almost nothing to say about it. So, this is all window dressing," he says.
With it being an election year, farm group leaders say lawmakers are motivated to reach an agreement. "The fact that the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate is on the conference, put himself on the conference committee ... he's got a big interest in getting this farm bill done," says Julie Anna Potts, executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau.
There's also a sense of urgency with the current economic crisis in agriculture. "With the uncertainty of the tariffs and everything else that's going on, we need the certainty that we have a farm bill and we know what it's going to be so when we go to the bank, at least they know they're going to have crop insurance in place ... everything's in place," says Bob Worth of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
Both Peterson and Walz are optimistic about passage before the current farm program expires September 30.