Although the federal government shutdown is still ongoing, it appears that some steps are being taken in Washington D.C. to make progress on resolving the differences between the House and Senate-passed farm bills.
On Saturday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) named the Republican members who will serve on the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee. Among the 22-appointed Republican conferees is Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who hopes to bring his own experience as a farmer to help find solutions that will drive local economies.
“I am honored to have been appointed to the Farm Bill Conference Committee,” said Rep. Denham. “As an almond farmer and a representative of California’s Central Valley, where agriculture is one of the primary drivers of the local economy, I know how vital the Farm Bill is to farmers and ranchers, not to mention to the American people who rely on a safe and affordable food supply.”
Every five years, Congress is required to pass a package of legislation, commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill” to set policies on national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry. The last farm bill, passed in 2008, expired in 2012 and saw a partial extension in January to extend several expired farm bill programs.
During the conference, the most likely subject of contention will be the level of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as the food stamp program. The Senate’s comprehensive bill would cut $4 billion over the next 10 years while the House bill plans to reduce funding to the program by $39 billion over the same amount of time.
In a voice-vote on Friday, members of the House of Representatives approved a non-binding resolution to urge House negotiators to support a Senate-passed provision that put restrictions on the amount of crop insurance subsidies for wealthy farms with an adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more per year.
While a number of issues regarding House-Senate differences of the new farm bill will be negotiated throughout the conference, Rep. Denham clearly laid out his top priorities as a conferee.
Among Denham’s top five priorities includes providing a five-year certainty for farmers while saving taxpayer dollars by eliminating payments and reforming nutrition programs; supporting research and development of specialty crops; supporting programs that increase exports and take advantage of new trade agreement; protect domestic produce and farms from pests and diseases from foreign nations; and continue to withhold each state’s right to protect its own agricultural industry by passing laws that are related to safety and agricultural production.
“The Farm Bill represents significant reforms to long established programs,” said Denham. “It’s time to conference with the farm bill and work with our Senate counterparts to produce a final product that will maintain a safety net for those most in need and give American growers and producers a competitive and productive global edge while saving taxpayers money.”
The House Agricultural Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said on Saturday that although it has been a long and challenging process, he is certain that the committee will work together to create a final farm bill.
“I am pleased to be at this point in the farm bill process where we are about to begin negotiations with our friends in the Senate and put a final bill together,” said Lucas. “This has been a long and challenging process, but that does not discount the product we have achieved with billions of dollars in savings and reforms, and policy that works for all of agriculture across the country. There are challenging issues yet to overcome, but we have a solid team of negotiators in place. I am confident we can reach consensus and send a five-year farm bill to the President.”
The House farm bill conferees include nine Democrats and 13 Republicans, while the Senate conferees include seven Democrats and five Republicans.