Grassley talks farm bill, approps, Smithfield, Brazil | TheFencePost.com

Grassley talks farm bill, approps, Smithfield, Brazil

-The Hagstrom Report

In a wide-ranging conversation with reporters today, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that House Republicans should give up on stiffer work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries if they want a farm bill passed by the end of the year.

He also said that the proposal of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, to use money that would be paid to wheat farmers to make payments to cotton growers is "obnoxious" to senators from wheat growing states, and that he might have a better chance to get his payment limit provisions included if the Democrats win control of the House and the farm bill is postponed until next year.

Grassley said he personally does not mind stiffer work requirements for some beneficiaries under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but that a farm bill with those requirements won't pass the Senate.

"If the House of Representatives wants a five-year farm bill, they better fish or cut bait and give up on that," Grassley said.

The provision on cotton and wheat to which he referred is a House farm bill provision to allow farmers to change yields in areas of persistent drought using budget authority that goes to land that used to be planted to crops but is now planted to grass.

Grassley said that the issue was one that was stalling the farm bill the last time he spoke to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., several weeks ago. Hill sources have told The Hagstrom Report that House and Senate committee staff are making progress on that issue.

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On the issue of payment limitations, Grassley said he believes that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, has taken a "ridiculous" position by including a provision that would lessen payment restrictions, and that he believes a Democratic chairman of the committee would be "more open" to his position. Grassley added that the issue is not enough for him to hope that the Democrats will take over the House.

The major holdup in a bill to finance the rest of the government for fiscal year 2019 is the money for the Mexico border wall that President Donald Trump wants. But with the migration northward that should not be an issue if the elections turn out as Trump wants, he said.

Grassley also criticized Smithfield Foods, the pork producing company that is owned by the Chinese, for publishing a guest column in the Des Moines Register Monday that criticized his comments on Smithfield's eligibility for trade assistance.

Grassley said Smithfield knew that he was only asking questions about the company'ss eligibility, and that he believes Smithfield should be eligible for U.S. pork purchase program.

But Grassley also noted that when Smithfield was being sold, executives said the sale would result in more U.S. pork being sold to China.

"That is precisely the kind of ridiculous business practice President Trump is trying to end with China," Grassley said, adding that the United States shouldn't have to sell a business to the Chinese in order to do business with China.

The call also revealed Grassley's longstanding difficult relationship with Smithfield. Years ago, when he said that Smithfield was trying to put Iowa family farmers out of business, he said, a Smithfield executive told him that he did not want Iowa family farmers to go out of business, but said he wanted them feeding Smithfield-owned hogs.

Grassley also said he has no objections to a free-trade agreement with Brazil as long as food safety regulations are followed, but that he considers an agreement with Brazil less important than agreements with Japan and the European Union.

Grassley said his experience with Brazil has been that in past multilateral trade negotiations the giant South American agriculture producer has joined with the European Union and others to say that the United States was not putting enough on the table. But Grassley allowed that Trump may think he can get more out of a bilateral agreement, particularly with Brazil's new conservative president.