Peterson: Conaway plans March 20 farm bill markup, but Dems in revolt |

Peterson: Conaway plans March 20 farm bill markup, but Dems in revolt

-The Hagstrom Report

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, plans to mark up the farm bill on March 20, but Democrats are in revolt over the bill's provisions on food stamps and at this point won't support it, House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a radio interview on Thursday.

In an interview with Mike Adams on the American Ag Network, Peterson said that he and Conaway had "hit an impasse" on Wednesday evening over the nutrition title that governs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be called food stamps.

A spokeswoman for Conaway said she could not confirm the March 20 markup date.

"While the chairman has said publicly that he would like to move a bill by the end of Q1 (the first quarter of 2018) — and that remains the goal — ultimately he would still like to move a bipartisan bill," Rachel Millard, Conaway's communications director, said in an email. "So we're working closely with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to try to get there."

Peterson said the Republican proposal is similar to what killed the current farm bill the first time it came to the House floor in 2013.

"They want to take 8 million people off the rolls and they want to take the money saved and give it to the states to create a job-training bureaucracy," Peterson said.

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The GOP proposal would also raise the age until which people would be expected to work to get benefits, from 60 to 65. That would mean police, the military and others who take retirement at 50 or 55 because their work situations allow it, but have low-level pensions would not be able to get benefits unless they go back to work, Peterson said.

"My side is in revolt," Peterson said. "There will not be one single vote on the Democratic side in committee if they have what is currently in the bill."

Conaway might be able to get the bill out of committee but it will be "an exercise in futility," Peterson said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told him Monday that the Senate won't make any significant changes to the nutrition programs because he has to get 10 to 15 Democratic votes to pass the bill, Peterson said.

Peterson described himself as frustrated because he has been telling Republicans "for a long time that this is not going to fly, and they are not listening. I thought they would come to their senses."

Peterson said he is not sure how a markup can be held as soon as March 20 with so many issues pending in the House and the food stamp problem, but that Conaway may be planning to get it out of committee on Republican votes.

Peterson acknowledged that the conflict over SNAP might lead to more attempts to separate nutrition programs and farm programs into two separate bills.

Conaway in an email disputed Peterson's view of the situation.

"I have worked with Collin every step of the way on the farm bill draft that our staffs have developed together. I'm proud of the work we've done," Conaway said.

"I have always intended and continue to hope that this farm bill will be a bipartisan bill. There is no reason that it should not be and every reason it should. Our farmers and ranchers are hurting.

"In regard to SNAP, I successfully led efforts to prevent cuts to the farm bill, including to SNAP, last year and my position has not changed. That is a matter of public record," Conaway said.

"I have made it clear that policy, not budget cuts, will govern the writing of this farm bill, including SNAP.

"In fact, not one person would be forced off SNAP due to the work or training requirements we have been discussing. Not one. Our approach is not even remotely like the approach taken in 2013 that caused the farm bill to fail.

"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," Conaway said.

"That's certainly their prerogative. But anyone who cares about the farmer and the rancher and the state of the agriculture economy does not have that kind of luxury."

The rest of the bill will be similar to current law because there is no money for new programs, Peterson said in the radio interview. There would be "a little bit of tweaking on dairy," he said, and he is trying to increase the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to idle land, he said.

The offset, Peterson added, would be achieved by limiting rental payments to 80 percent of the average of rental rates in that county. Making that change would mean "nobody will take good quality farm land and put it into CRP," he said.