Farm Bill Sails Through Congress with Bipartisan Support
Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 provides assistance to farmers and those in poverty
Congress passed the latest version of legislation covering national agricultural and food policies on Wednesday with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — a five-year, $867 billion bill — is the latest iteration of a program that stretches back to 1933.
The Farm Bill, as it is commonly known, provides assistance to farmers and people in poverty. The Senate first passed the legislation 87 to 13 on Tuesday before it moved along to the House — where it was approved 369 to 47.
“This bill takes a look at those pressures, takes a look at the stresses and strains across all of rural America, the economic development issues, the issues with just the practice of farming and ranching, and says, ‘Here are federal resources that we want to put against those problems, against the issue of farmers going out of business,'” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who introduced the bill, said minutes before the vote.
The Farm Bill comes after months of bipartisan discussions to draft a final version of the legislation.
House and Senate lawmakers formed a conference committee to bridge the differences between their versions of the bill on July 18.
The lawmakers eventually announced the final version of the proposal late Monday.
President Donald Trump now needs to sign the bill before it can become law.
He expressed his support for it on Tuesday during an otherwise contentious meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on funding for his proposed security wall along the southern border.
“The farm bill is moving along nicely,” Trump said during the meeting. “We think the farm bill is in very good shape. A lot of good things are happening with it, and our farmers are well taken care of. And again, that will be quite bipartisan and it will happen pretty soon.”
The legislation over the years has provided farmers with crop insurance, subsidies and loans. Disaster relief provisions apply generally and there are subsidies for specific agricultural industries.
The legislation has also been split with funding for food stamps as well, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“We think the farm bill is in very good shape. A lot of good things are happening with it, and our farmers are well taken care of,” said Trump.
This most recent iteration of the bill calls for a number of updates. It enhances assistance to farm producers who have a revenue or market value shortfalls, with increased flexibility for tracking and filing claims. It also increases farming loan programs, which allow crops to be used as collateral.
The bill also increases access to disaster relief programs and includes a measure that legalizes hemp. The federal government heavily regulates and restricts commercial use of hemp because of its relation to cannabis. But unlike its cousin plant, hemp can’t get people high. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) applauded the hemp provision as a big boost for the agricultural industry.
The SNAP component of the program is the most significant part. The Congressional Budget Office found that the last version of the law from four years ago mostly consisted of nutrition program funding at 80 percent.
The latest version doesn’t make too many changes, with the exception of some provisions to better combat fraud.
“Unfortunately this bill has become about more than supporting our farmers,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said in a statement provided to LifeZette. “Too much of this bill is devoted to irresponsible food stamp distribution that fails to help people realize the dignity of work. I could not support this bill because it does not contain stronger work requirements for food stamps.”
The House also brewed some controversy in its procedural vote to establish the rules on how the bill would be debated.
A provision within the proposed rules prevents lawmakers from forcing a vote for the rest of the year on any resolution that attempts to cut off support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
It was narrowly passed after some backlash, 206-203.
“Does your congressman know what’s hidden in a procedural vote on the Farm Bill today?” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) tweeted before the vote Wednesday.
“Does he or she care? To avoid a debate on whether the US should be involved in a war in Yemen, today our leadership will trick members into suspending the provisions of the War Powers Act.”
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