Farm Bill – To Conference or Not to Conference Part II
July 17th, 2013
On Tuesday, July 16, the House sent its farm-only farm bill to the Senate, enabling the Senate to take the House bill, strip out the House language, insert the Senate language (including the nutrition title), and request a conference committee to work out the differences. That Senate action is expected today.
Also on Tuesday, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) weighed in with the latest complicated news with respect to taking the farm bill to conference with the Senate and producing a final bill.
In a memo addressed only to Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee, the Chairman indicates his dilemma continues – whether his leadership will allow him to go to conference with the Senate with the farm-only farm bill that passed the House on a strictly partisan vote last week but come to a conference agreement that includes a nutrition title, one no doubt heavily weighted to the Senate version since it would be the only version in conference, or whether to first attempt to draft, markup, and pass a nutrition title-only bill in the House, before starting conference.
As he did during his floor speeches on the House last week as he guided the farm-only bill to passage, Lucas comes down seemingly in favor of both options, but now more heavily weighted to the second option. He says, for instance, “The simple fact is we now have a vehicle with which we can put in place a formal process to send a final 2013 Farm Bill to the President for his signature.” That suggests option one is alive and well.
But then he adds that informal conversations with the Senate will have to take place first, before there is a real conference, and that in the meantime the House will form a task force of Committee and non-Committee members to produce a bill — outside of regular order it would appear — that cuts the SNAP program. This suggests the second option is the road the House Republican leadership intends to move down. Though even then, the Chairman hints that it may prove difficult to pull off and, if so, that may yet bring them back to option one.
The bottom line situation is now becoming increasingly clear. Starting a conference now would be a sign of hope and momentum that a new five-year farm bill is possible. Delaying and going back to the House floor with a partisan food stamp bill effectively means the now three-year old effort to get a new farm bill is over for this year and that another farm bill extension will become necessary.
Another extension, however, will itself become a major new round of debate, as the chances for a straight extension this time, with no reform and lots of stranded, unfunded programs, are close to nil. It is clearly the far better choice to do the new bill, and to start the conference committee to work on it right away. As it was last year, the choice is in the hands of the House majority leadership.