Senate Puts Up a ‘Softer’ Farm Bill, But There is Still a Big Fight Ahead

UPDATE 2: The stage is set for showdown between the House and Senate over the direction of the Farm Bill and whether Congress will maintain the longstanding tradition of protecting our Family Farmers, children, seniors, veterans and active duty families that are covered by its American Safety Net.

In an all-too-rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the Senate voted 86 to 11 Thursday night for a bill that encompasses the economic necessities of farmers, the nutritional needs of American families and the conservationist practices that protect our food supply, precious lands and waterways.

The Senate version is far cry from the Machiavellian legislation passed in the House. We should expect a bitter fight between the bipartisan coalition in the Senate and the hard line Republicans in the House, who barely were able to pass their bill on a 213 to 211 vote.

Few changes were made to the original version of the bill hammered out by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

UPDATE 1: The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 20-1 in favor of the Farm Bill last week, adding only a few changes to the legislation. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was the lone no vote, arguing the bill includes measures that provide corporate welfare for non-farmers (his measure succeeded in getting added before the final vote). He hopes to get his changes into the bill before the final Senate vote.

The House and Senate remain miles apart on approach, so we expect a bumpy ride when the two chambers ultimately plow through negotiations toward a final Farm Bill they will send to Trump for his signature.

Senators are being praised for their version of the Farm Bill, which protects Family Farmers, nutrition and farm-to-fork programs.

Although “softer” than the mean-spirited House version, congressional insiders still believe that the Senate could produce a flawed piece of legislation when the committee and full Senate finalize the legislation. The Senate Agriculture Committee plans to tinker with its bill starting this week and hopes to have vote by the full Senate before the Fourth of July.

“The Senate’s draft text of the 2018 Farm Bill makes significant improvements over the current version of the House bill,” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a statement. “Nonetheless, we will encourage the Senate to make important improvements to the farm safety net and to programs that enhance long-term sustainability and access to markets for family farmers and ranchers.”

We should also anticipate House hardliners and the White House to keep the pressure on to maintain the forced-work provision when both chambers in Congress negotiate a final bill. Trump has indicated he wants a forced work program in any bill he will sign into law.

The group Farm Futures has created a point-by-point comparison of the Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also looked at the differences in the House and Senate bills.

Meanwhile, after mending an internal party rift that led to the initial defeat of the House bill, a now-united GOP plans to re-vote on its flawed Farm Bill on or around June 22, 2018. Unless pressured to flip their vote, the House will pass that bill.

The House GOP bill is an $867 billion package that sets spending for the next 10 years. Despite rising cost of living, it’s $90 billion less than the enacted 2014 Farm Bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office analysis. More than 10 million Americans over the age of 50 currently get help buying groceries thanks to the Farm Bill, as do 23,000 active duty military households and 1.5 million veterans and their families.

Even before we know the full extent of the harm that would be done by a forced work program, estimates are more than 2 million Americans will have food taken from their tables, and another quarter of a million children will lose their school lunches thanks to the House Farm Bill. About 75% of the Farm Bill funds nutrition and farm-to-fork programs.


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