With the House and Senate versions of the farm bill complete, it’s time to take the bills into conference where the two will become one.
According to Jim Wiesemeyer, Pro Farmer’s policy analyst, lawmakers could go into conference to work out their differences as early as Wednesday or as late as next Monday. During “AgriTalk” on July 16, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told host Chip Flory Thursday would be the day. Later in the conversation, though, he indicated they might hold the vote on Wednesday or Monday to accommodate Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) who has to make an unexpected trip to his district on Thursday.
“He won’t be here Thursday,” Conaway told reporters, adding he plans to wait out of respect for his Democrat colleagues who want Peterson present for the vote. “I've got this clock running, and the quicker I can get stuff done the better. Leadership is chewing on it right now.”
Once they vote to move to conference, conferees will be named.
“[The vote] sets up the process of naming folks to the conference committee,” Conaway explained adding that each side will elect their own conferees. The House conferees will not only include members of the House ag committee but members who are on other committees with shared jurisdiction over parts of the farm bill.
Then conference, the time when the House and Senate will reconcile the differences between their two bills, will begin. According to Wiesemeyer, one of the key issues will be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Senate bill doesn’t contain the controversial work requirements that prompted every House Democrat to oppose the bill.
"To say absolutely 'no' to any kind of reforms to SNAP is unsupportable," Conaway explained. "It's stunning how tone deaf some of my colleagues are with respect to this issue."
According to Conaway, the House farm bill “doesn’t really change” the work requirement of 20 hours per week.
“What we're trying to do is make sure that the work requirements are actually enforced,” he told Flory. We've worked on eliminating waivers that states like California and Illinois are using to allow people to not have to work and, in one of the best economies I can remember, to stay on food stamps. So, it's not so much about new work requirements as it is just enforcing the ones that are there and standardizing the qualifications for being on SNAP across the country.”
The House version does change the minimum age for work requirement exemption from 59 to 49.
“Quite frankly, I believe that's an appropriate change as well because folks 50 to 59 are still active contributors to society,” Conaway said.
According to Conaway, there are a few other title programs where the two chambers will disagree, but that’s typical.
“That’s pretty standard procedure on a farm bill; each body comes to the table with several different perspectives and then you work real hard to blend those into a compromise agreement that then gets good strong support from both parties and we send that to the president,” he said. “We need to get this done by Sept. 30. We've got 76 days, 13 hours and 36 minutes to make that happen, so we are burning daylight and I’m anxious to get this thing going.”