Farm bill rule approved, debate to begin today
Senate farm bill markup expected soon
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Tuesday that they expect a farm bill markup to be held soon.
Roberts told reporters that he believes he and Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will be ready to announce a markup date next week.
Klobuchar told reporters she believes the committee will have a product ready in June.
At a news conference with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Klobuchar emphasized that members of the committee are working together on a bigpartisan basis in contrast with the House Agriculture Committee. She also noted that House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has said he supports the Senate bipartisan effort.
The House will begin consideration of a new farm bill on the House floor today with a debate on the rule governing debate, probably starting at 12:30 p.m.
The House Rules Committee approved the rule for the bill and 20 amendments, along with two other bills, late Tuesday. The 6-3 vote was along party lines, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against after House Rules ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., proposed that the bill be sent back to committee with instructions not to make the changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that he described as “cruel” and “mean spirited.”
The rule allows for one hour of debate on a single rule for H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, and H.R. 5698, the Protect and Serve Act and S. 2372, the Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said late Tuesday that the first votes are expected between 1:15 and 2:15 p.m., and that the last votes are expected between 4:45 and 5:45 p.m.
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Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., will handle the rule on the floor for the Republicans and McGovern will handle it for the Democrats.
The rule allows for one hour of general debate on the farm bill proposal divided equally between the Republicans and the Democrats, to be followed by debates of 10 minutes each on 20 amendments.
The 20 amendments approved in the rule for general debate did not include any of the controversial subjects such as the sugar program, crop insurance or payment limitations. Those amendments will be taken up in a separate Rules Committee meeting today at 3 p.m.
The 20 amendments in the package approved Tuesday are supposed to be relatively noncontroversial but they include proposals such as allowing SNAP beneficiaries to purchase a multivitamin with their benefits and a proposal to exempt all national forests in Alaska from the Forest Service roadless rule.
The Rules Committee hearing was highly emotional. No Democrat from the House Agriculture Committee testified on the rule, and McGovern said that House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., did not attend the Rules meeting because he did not want to “legitimatize” a process that he does not consider legitimate because Democrats were not included in the writing of the nutrition title of the bill.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, made an opening statement in which he defended the work requirements under SNAP, saying they would lead people to finding jobs or work training.
Conaway also said it is vital to pass the bill because there are so many economic troubles in rural America.
But speaking of the farm program section of the bill, Conaway also noted, “A cottage industry has grown up in Washington that is bent around the axle on undoing farm policy. Many of these groups — from both ends of the political spectrum — are well-heeled, and they spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on this area of policy that is actually working very well. I support a full-throated debate over the farm bill, but I also want everyone to be aware of what is at stake here.”
As part of a lengthy discussion of the SNAP work requirements, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, pointed out that his son, who has Down syndrome, works 20 hours per week, and said that one of the purposes of the work requirements is to get able-bodied men in particular to work.
Sessions emphasized that employers are having a hard time finding workers, and said that Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show that there is “not necessarily a huge skills gap between jobs and job hunters.”
McGovern said that the category of people known as able-bodied adults without dependents is complicated, and includes people with undiagnosed mental illnesses, teenagers just out of foster care and veterans
McGovern said that if Conaway had agreed to hold a hearing on the able-bodied adults without dependents “maybe we could speak with clarity” about them.
Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Norma Torres, D-Calif., said that the SNAP provisions would hurt their states.
With the farm bill, Hastings said, “The poor people will get poorer, the richer will get richer. That has been going on in this country while you have been in the majority.”
Torres said that California agriculture and human services organizations have said the bill will increase hunger nationwide.
Conaway pointed out that there are no time limits on SNAP eligibility for people who work 20 hours per week and meet asset tests and income requirements.
If people work, Conaway said, “we are shoulder to shoulder with you for the rest of your life.” ❖
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