Conaway Releases ‘Chairman’s Mark’ Farm Bill Draft

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway released his draft of the next farm bill Thursday, known as the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. Introducing the bill, Conaway stated: “Except for the SNAP portion, this a bipartisan bill.” He says the legislation would be open for amendments. Conaway says his draft of the bill “keeps faith with our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” and also “keeps faith” with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program users by “offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job.”

Opponents to his plan say millions would lose SNAP benefits under his legislation. The Conaway bill would require all SNAP users to work or be in job training programs except for children, seniors, the disabled and women who are pregnant or taking care of children under six-years-old. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced he will not seek re-election, said he would like to see action on the farm bill this spring. However, Republicans could opt to replace Ryan as Speaker before his term is finished. Markup of the farm bill in the House Agriculture Committee is planned for this coming Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued the following statement on the release of the 2018 Farm Bill:

“I applaud Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for their diligence and hard work in crafting the 2018 Farm Bill. The trend of low commodity prices over recent years and headlines about trade disputes have caused anxiety among agricultural producers these days, so this legislation is critically important to give them some much-needed reassurance.  In my travels across the country, I have found that farmers have confidence in President Trump’s ability to negotiate strong trade deals with other nations, but they also want a strong, bipartisan Farm Bill that puts their needs above Washington, D.C. politics.  While there is still much work to be done, I am pleased that this Farm Bill aligns with many of the principles USDA released in January.  I look forward to working with the Agriculture Committees and members of Congress from both sides to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill in a timely fashion to provide the needed support and certainty to our farmers.  The Trump Administration has made rural prosperity a priority for the country, and a Farm Bill that works for agriculture is a key component of the agenda.”

Democrats on the Agriculture Committee appear unpleased by the draft. Ranking Member Collin Peterson says of the bill: “It makes no sense” to put agriculture and the farm safety net “at risk in pursuit of partisan ideology on SNAP.” Peterson says the bill’s nutrition title is “based on false perceptions and ignores reality,” along with ignoring the testimony of 89 witnesses regarding SNAP. The bill, Peterson says, also “fails to make needed improvements to the farm safety net.”

The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 is bill number HR-2, and Conaway says low bill numbers are reserved for highly important legislation. For reference, the Republican tax bill passed by Congress was HR-1 in the House.

The draft of the bill would make improvements to the farm safety net, according to Conaway, including the ARC and PLC programs, allowing reference prices to adjust to better market conditions. The bill also seeks to minimize the ARC program variations between counties. The bill makes changes to conservation programs, and adds funding for rural broadband, rural development, and seeks to address the rural opioid crisis.

The draft also includes a sought-after Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank. The draft calls for first-year mandatory funding of $150 million for the vaccine bank, $70 million in block grants to states for disease prevention and $30 million for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. For the other years of the five-year Farm Bill, there’s $30 million in mandatory funding for state block grants and $20 million to be used at the Agriculture Secretary’s discretion. Although the disease was last detected in the United States in 1929, it is prevalent in many parts of the world, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

Find the text of the bill here:

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