Lubbock A-J: Arrington: Progress made as deadline looms for Farm Bill
Negotiators of the Farm Bill said Thursday they’ve reached an “agreement in principle” on a final draft, as the end of the Congressional session looms just over two weeks away.
Details of the compromise haven’t been released, but Lubbock’s U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, who is a member of the conference committee appointed to reconcile House and Senate versions passed earlier this year, said it bodes well for the agriculture and rural communities.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be a home-run for our farmers and ranchers, and agriculture in this country,” Arrington said over the phone Thursday morning. “The safety net has been significantly strengthened, and the other big component is the investment in rural infrastructure. As I’ve said before, if you don’t have sustainable communities, then you won’t have growing ag economies — those go hand-in-hand.
“This may be one of the best farm bills in recent history, maybe ever, with respect to the core of what a farm bill should be about, which is providing the stability and certainty that our farmers and ranchers need.”
The conference committee was appointed in July to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bills passed earlier in the year, according to A-J archives. It’s a bipartisan committee of Republicans and Democrats from both chambers. What gets sent out of the committee is what gets voted on — there will be no amendments.
Congress is supposed to reauthorize the Farm Bill every five years but political wrangling has threatened its fate. The current law expired in September, and the concern still remains that the 2018 bill won’t be approved before the end of the year. The session ends Dec. 14, and the bill still needs to be finalized by the committee and approved in both chambers.
If not, the legislative process will start over with the next Congress in January, with Democrats controlling the House.
A new funding deal also faces a Dec. 7 deadline.
Thursday’s announcement on the Farm Bill was described as a step in the right direction. News of the agreement was announced in a statement from the committee saying negotiators are working to finalize the language and waiting for the official cost numbers from the Congressional Budget Office.
“We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible,” the statement reads.
The legislation approved in the House and Senate renews farm programs such as crop insurance and land conservation at a time when farmers are facing low prices and trading concerns. It does include cotton under the list of Title 1 safety nets, and maintains such commodities as the price loss coverage and agriculture risk coverage, the marketing loan and the livestock disaster programs.
“From the information we’ve been given, there have been modest improvements,” said Kody Bessent, the vice president of operations and legislative affairs at Plains Cotton Growers. “It’s definitely a positive (bill) for ag. There could be some big wins, especially when working on a base-line bill — what I mean by that is that it’s a bill with no additional funding to be had to make vast improvements to programs.”
Cotton had significant political gains earlier this year when it got back into the Title 1 program for Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss coverage. Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers, said what the Farm Bill does is provide five years of certainty.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is also part of the farm bill and right now makes up about 80 percent of the total cost of the bill. According to A-J archives, the version of the Farm Bill that passed in the House was unable to get Democratic support due to tougher work requirements for food stamp recipients, which opponents say will toss too many people off government food assistance.
Without going into much detail about the agreement, Arrington said the final bill won’t have the bold reform he would have liked.
Arrington said more details on the bill will come out either Friday or early next week, and he’s confident the bill will get passed before his first term ends in December.