Farm Bill's Fate Uncertain in Lame Duck

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House and the Senate returned to Washington Tuesday to begin the post-election lame-duck session that may or may not include passage of a new farm bill.

The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees have said they will push hard to finish a new farm bill this year. But the bill's fate is likely to depend on how much energy there is to pass legislation as Congress prepares for the Democrats to take control of the House.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., met Monday for half an hour, Politico reported.

After the meeting, Peterson declined to comment, and Conaway said, "We're still having conversations. We agreed to continue working hard to get this thing done this term," Politico reported.

A key farm lobbyist said the brevity of the Conaway-Peterson meeting was a negative sign for passage of the farm bill this year.

Congress also is under a deadline to pass a measure to fund several departments, including the Agriculture Department and related agencies, by Dec. 7 when a current funding agreement expires. President Donald Trump has threatened to make his demand for funding of a border wall an element of those negotiations.

The House was scheduled to meet at noon Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday for morning hour and at 2 p.m. EST for legislative business. No votes will take place until 6:30 p.m. EST. The House will continue to be in session through Friday, with votes expected no later than 3 p.m.

The House Republicans are scheduled to hold their leadership elections on Wednesday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has already said he has the votes to win the House minority leader's position.

The House Democrats are scheduled to hold their leadership elections on Nov. 28. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to be their leader. Pelosi is also expected to be elected speaker of the House in January.

Some Democratic candidates said they would not vote for Pelosi, but as House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Peterson, who is expected to chair the committee, said last week, no one is running against her.

The Senate is scheduled to go into session at 3 p.m. EST Tuesday.

Both chambers are scheduled to be out of session next week for Thanksgiving, but will return the week of Nov. 26.

FARM BUREAU, NFU HAVE NO POSITION ON BASE ACRES, NAWG DOES

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, the nation's two largest farm organizations, have no position on whether Congress should change the system of base acreage payments so that farmers who have experienced lengthy periods of drought would be able to change their base acreage yields to generate payments while farmers who have planted their base acreage to grass would not get payments.

The House farm bill contains the provision and the Senate bill does not. The measure is viewed as providing money to cotton growers, although House Republican aides maintain that the aid would be spread among several crops in many states.

A Farm Bureau spokesman said the Republican-leaning group has "no position. It's not something we've made a priority. We just want a bill sooner than later."

A spokesman for the Democratic-leaning Farmers Union said, "We won't have a comment on that."

National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Chandler Goule said, "NAWG is opposed to changes to the base acre system, including the unplanted base provision that was in the House-passed version of the farm bill."

"Though we have and continue to advocate for improvements to ARC [Agricultural Risk Coverage] and PLC [Production Loss Coverage] and we do believe that both the House and Senate passed bills include some positive changes to those programs, we do not believe the improvements outweigh the harm to wheat growers that would lose base acres.

"We continue to be in regular communications with the Ag committees as they try to resolve this issue."

Earlier, the Environmental Working Group and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition had come out in opposition to the provision that is contained in the House farm bill.

(AG)

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