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BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE: Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., expects a bipartisan bill to go to the Senate floor as soon as June 12 — one that won't attempt welfare reform.

It's a full-blown partisan farm food fight

Clock ticks faster as 2018 Farm Bill 'food fight' politics stretches toward recess.

Persistence may be a virtue, unless it's politically perceived as bull-headedness. Any way you look at it, that's the case confronting passage of a 2018 Farm Bill.

In late May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution including this last line: Action on the farm bill "may continue to be postponed through the legislative day of Friday, June 22." To some, that means a new vote on H.R. 2; to others, it's an escape clause.

House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and GOP leadership may make a second attempt to pass its original version, pending enough votes to override Democratic opposition. On the Senate side, Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., expected a bipartisan bill to go to the Senate floor as soon as June 12 — one that won't attempt welfare reform.

Then there's a third factor: President Donald Trump has vowed to veto any farm bill that doesn't include stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The House version would double SNAP benefits when buying fruits and vegetables, but could reduce stipends or eliminate them to 2-million Americans below the poverty line. That's where the standoff currently stands.

Inside the Senate bill
Roberts, speaking at a farm bill public forum along with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, in Manhattan, Kan., said he personally has no problem with the House bill, which includes stricter rules requiring "able-bodied" SNAP recipients to either work 20 hours a week or be engaged in training for work.

He hopes the House gets to work and passes it, "and we can get down to the hard work of hashing out a final bill to go to the president for his signature before Sept. 30." However, Roberts stressed, the Senate needs 60 votes to pass a bill and changing the rules for SNAP in the interest of welfare reform won't pass.

"I have a commitment from (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer that he won't ask for a cloture vote on the farm bill," Roberts said. "My colleagues across the aisle won't support stricter SNAP rules, and we need to pass a bill."

Roberts doesn't expect a problem with a Trump veto. "It's not a question of whether or not there'll be work requirements," he said. "It's about whether or not we're going to get into defining 'able-bodied' and adding in other stuff.

"America's farmers and ranchers, their suppliers and their bankers deserve certainty. An extension won't cut it. We need a bill, and we're going to pass one."

Conservation conflict
The House version rolls the Conservation Stewardship Program into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, according to Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for American Farm Bureau Federation. Caps or limits based on farm size and ownership were defeated on the floor or in the House Rules Committee, he added. He presumed they wouldn't be back when the bill returns to the floor.

As previously reported, key bipartisan Senate leaders adamantly oppose letting CSP expire. Among 13 points outlined in previous reporting is a proposed increase in CSP incentives for cover crops and intensive rotational grazing.

The clock ticks faster
Given the upcoming mid-term elections, probabilities of a 2014 Farm Bill extension increase by the day. Both houses will recess for most of August and large parts of September. While the current law expires Sept. 30, an extension would include only programs, such as food stamps and crop insurance, with 'baseline' funding written into their authorization. Many other programs, such as all organic, would require discretionary funding until a new farm bill is completed.

That's not good enough, Roberts argued. "The issue more than anything else is providing certainty that'll let our farmers make plans," he said. "We are undergoing hard times in farm country. Our farmers and ranchers can deal with the adversity that weather dishes out. They deserve the certainty that a five-year farm bill can bring."

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