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Trump and McConnell Discuss Farm Bill as Part of Lame-Duck Agenda

While some analysts expressed skepticism about passage of the farm bill, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed the bill among must-do legislation on Thursday for action in the brief congressional postelection session. House and Senate negotiators have differences across the farm bill, highlighted by House Republican demands for stricter SNAP work requirements.

Trump, who advocates new or stronger work requirements for federal aid programs, again called for inclusion of work requirements in the farm bill last week. At the same time, he acknowledged strong Senate opposition to them. Senators voted 2-to-1 against the idea just before passing a bipartisan bill that encourages efficient operation of the anti-hunger program but does not alter SNAP benefits. House Democrats voted uniformly against the GOP plan.

“The president met with Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senators [Richard] Shelby and [John] Thune in the Oval Office to discuss the lame-duck agenda, including the farm bill, government appropriations — including border security — disaster relief funding, nominations, and prison reform,” said White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley. Shelby chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal funding, and Thune is part of the Senate GOP leadership as well as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“We had a good discussion about funding the government and the other year-end items, and we’re optimistic we’re going to be able to get that done, get the farm bill done,” said McConnell. “We talked about border security, and how to resolve all this, and we’re optimistic we have a way forward.”

Congress faces a December 7 deadline to pass a government funding bill to avoid a partial federal shutdown. The White House says the funding bill must include money for a border wall with Mexico. McConnell has listed the farm bill and the funding bill as the two items that “absolutely have to be accomplished” in the lame-duck session.

During a webinar, three analysts said the odds of farm bill passage this year may be no better than 50%. After sniping at one another on Wednesday, the “big four” negotiators apparently did not meet on Thursday, as they had been expected to do. Aides declined to discuss the state of negotiations.

“Right now, I’d put the odds at 50/50,” said Caroline Kitchens of the R Street Institute, a think tank. “So far, the House leadership has not backed down on [work requirements].” Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said, “I have slipped below 50/50” because of the stalemate. And Alexandra Murdoch of American Forests said, “I’m going to go with possible but not probable” because House Republicans are sticking to their partisan bill.

Nearly five dozen groups signed a letter Thursday to the Republican chairmen and senior Democrats on the Senate and House Agriculture committees saying the path to farm bill passage is the Senate’s bill.

“Like the Senate bill, the final farm bill should strengthen anti-hunger, conservation, and local food programs, support the next generation of diverse farmers, tighten farm subsidy loopholes, and reject anti-environmental riders,” said the groups, an assortment of anti-hunger, medical, consumer, environmental, and farm organizations. “To achieve these priorities, Congress must commit to finalizing a farm bill that reflects the bipartisan compromise achieved in the Senate farm bill.”

Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts and House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway separately told Politico that they were close to agreement on a final version of the bill. Roberts said negotiators might blend SNAP ideas from the Senate and House versions. A deal on the bill could be in hand by Monday, he said. If so, staff workers would allow enough time to draft a final text and get a budget “score” so a floor vote could be called in the next week or so.

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