On Wednesday, September 5, the 47 House and nine Senate lawmakers appointed to the 2018 Farm Bill conference held their one public meeting of the conference.  At the meeting, the conversation was largely dominated by discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal government’s largest food assistance program and nearly 80 percent of the bill’s total cost. During the meeting, there were some signs of compromise to ensure a new bill is finalized by September 30th, but scant discussion of the Energy Title.   

House Agriculture Chairman Conaway (R-TX) indicated at the meeting that he may be willing to find compromise with his three Agriculture conference committee co-chairs, who are largely at odds with the GOP effort to make dramatic cuts to SNAP. Rumored changes include allowing states to opt out of the stricter work requirements for SNAP contained in the House version. Even if the conferees can come to an agreement on SNAP, it remains unclear if President Trump will sign such a bill, with the House GOP and the President seeing SNAP cuts as part of their broader desire to reform entitlement programs.

Other differences between the Senate and House bill may seem minor in comparison, but there are still many differences between the two versions that will require a fair bit of compromise.  The Senate’s Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (S. 3042), largely preserves the 2014 Farm Bill, including the Conservation Title as well as mandatory funding for the Energy Title. Conversely, the House’s Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), calls for deep cuts to the Conservation Title and elimination of the Energy Title.  Wednesday’s conference meeting provided no clarity on the Energy Title’s fate.

Lawmakers are racing towards a September 30th deadline for reauthorization.  If the farm bill expires at the end of the month, Congress will likely pass a series of short-term extensions until a new bill is passed. But, once the bill expires at the end of the month, programs without a budgetary baseline will expire.

These 39 non-baselined programs span 10 different titles, and include programs in the Conservation Title (II), Research (VII), Nutrition (IV), Rural Development (VI), Energy (IX), Horticulture (X), Trade (III), Commodities (I), and Crop Insurance (XI) programs.  All the programs in the Energy Title, with the exception of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), are non-baselined.  

Facing the worst farm economy in decades and a deepening trade war, farmers are increasingly looking to lawmakers to pass a new farm bill before the end of the month. Facing the midterm election season, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that “failure is not an option.” However, there appears to be no shortage of snags conferees could hit along the way.  


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