Senator calls for deal on farm bill
Written by: Frank Lockwood
Published by: NW Arkansas Democrat Gazette
WASHINGTON — At Wednesday’s farm bill conference committee meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged House and Senate members to swiftly resolve their differences and come up with language that can pass in both chambers.
“Failure is not an option,” the Republican from Kentucky said. “We need to get a farm bill signed into law before the end of September.”
Three Arkansans are serving on the 56-member committee, which is working to craft a compromise.
The farm bill sets federal agriculture policy, including commodity price supports. It also governs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — also known as food stamps.
Congress typically passes a farm bill roughly every five years. Key provisions in the 2014 farm bill are set to expire at the end of this month.
The Senate passed its version of a new farm bill on June 28 by a vote of 86-11. Eleven Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., opposed the measure.
The House passed its version on June 21 by a vote of 213-211, without garnering any Democratic support.
The House bill, which was backed by all four Arkansas members, expands work requirements for able-bodied adult food stamp recipients. Currently, adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who are physically and mentally capable are required to work. The House version raises the age to 59. Currently, there’s an exemption for “a parent or other member of a household with responsibility for a dependent child.” The House version only exempts caretakers if the child is less than 6 years old.
Wednesday on Twitter, President Donald Trump weighed in, writing: “#FarmBill with SNAP work requirements will bolster farmers and get America back to work. Pass the Farm Bill with SNAP work requirements!”
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., one of nine senators on the committee, said it’s important for lawmakers to “hammer out the remaining differences” and pass a farm bill “to provide certainty and predictability” for those who work the land.
“With net farm income half of what it was five years ago, farmers and ranchers are experiencing the most fragile farm economy since the 1980s. In both chambers, we have crafted policies, not to make the good times better, but to make the tough times bearable,” the lawmaker from Rogers said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., one of 47 House members on the committee, also called for action.
“Ultimately, passage of the farm bill will ensure that the U.S. remains a food secure nation, something that affects us all. … Food security is national security, and the nation that cannot feed itself is a nation at risk,” the lawmaker from Jonesboro said.
The other Arkansan on the committee, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, emphasized the need for decisive action.
“I cannot stress enough how important an on-time farm bill is to the people of the 4th District of Arkansas and to rural America as a whole,” the Republican from Hot Springs said.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach said the state is fortunate to have three voices on the conference committee.
“That’s pretty unprecedented, and we certainly appreciate them. We’re glad they’re on there,” Veach said.
He said he hopes that lawmakers are able to craft a compromise quickly.
“We need to get this new farm bill done to give us some security for the next five years,” he said. “If we don’t have a farm bill that [farmers and ranchers] can count on, it’s going to make it a lot more difficult for them.”