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Thatcher: Proposed Farm Bill Faces Headwinds
“This is not your grandfather’s farm bill.”
Mary Kay Thatcher, now the senior lead of Federal Government Relations with Syngenta, shared her insights about the current farm bill, which passed the House Agriculture Committee this week. It passed on a straight party-line vote of 26-20. Every farm bill (she’s been through eight farm bills) is difficult, Thatcher said. The 2018 farm bill is more challenging, since there is no incremental money available from the federal budget.
Thatcher, speaking on April 20 to the Iowa chapter of Young Professionals in Agriculture, gave several reasons why the current bill is facing headwinds:
“In Washington, there’s a caucus for everything,” she said. However, agriculture, unlike most other issues in Congress, “is truly the most bipartisan sector,” she added. That means there is plenty of history of bipartisan support for previous farm bills.
That may not be the case this year. The Freedom Caucus, which includes 31 ultra-conservative Republicans, votes as a bloc. Membership is by-invitation only. Because of the polarization of both parties, the swing of the Freedom Caucus weighs heavily in the balance.
Opposition Teams Up
One recent trend Thatcher has witnessed is the combination of interest groups typically on opposite sides of issues. In this case, the Environmental Working Group – a traditionally liberal group fighting many ag issues – and the Heritage Action for America lobby – typically a supporter of conservative issues – have teamed up against the farm bill. According to Thatcher, both groups are looking to reduce spending in the crop insurance costs of the farm bill.
The combined forces of these two lobbies could create challenges for passage of the farm bill.
Although most of the cuts in the House of Representatives version of the farm bill will be felt by the nutrition portion, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Democratic and urban senators and representatives will likely oppose such cuts.
Almost 77% of the funding in the farm bill (around $756 billion) is allotted to nutrition programs. Because SNAP and the ag programs are tied together, that will create serious challenges in passing the current farm bill. In essence, Democrats support more SNAP funding not less, and Republicans want to cut expenses.
Can Congress find the time? Thatcher shared with the audience of about 300 the current Congressional calendar. With plenty of days off for both the House and Senate, and the entire Congress off for the month of August, she suggested there may not be enough time to get it done.
“Maybe it comes up in May, maybe not,” she said. Time will tell, but the bill faces several headwinds.