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Trump Urges Speedy Work on Farm Bill; GOP Sets House Debate

House Republican leaders have scheduled the farm bill for debate next week, confident that when the time comes, a majority will vote for its combination of tougher work requirements for SNAP recipients and looser subsidy rules for farmers. President Trump, a proponent of tougher work requirements for welfare programs, offered his help to GOP ag leaders on Thursday to ensure timely passage of a new farm policy law.

With Democrats solidly opposed to the GOP-written bill, House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway spent this week canvassing for Republican support. The GOP has a 236-193 advantage over Democrats and would need the near-unanimous support of its members to pass the bill by itself. One concern is that farm subsidies are anathema to some hard-line conservatives, but they may find the bill acceptable because of its SNAP work rules.

“Well, we believe we’ll get there,” said Conaway in remarks transcribed by his office. “We’ve got a lot of undecideds. I’ll be working with them over the weekend to get them to where they need to be, and get whatever information they need so they understand exactly what the bill does. … I believe we’ll be there [a majority] next week, and we’ll be on the floor.”

The farm bill would require “work-capable” adults to work at least 20 hours a week or spend equivalent time in job training or workfare to qualify for food stamps. The states would be given $1 billion a year, triple the current funding, to pay for job training. The bill also would tighten SNAP eligibility rules. Democrats say 1.6 million people will leave the program, mostly because of the monthly paperwork required to prove they worked enough hours.

Other sections of the bill expand the list of family members eligible to collect subsidies to include nieces, nephews, and cousins, and removes limits on subsidies to some forms of corporate farming.

Trump spent an hour with Conaway, Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue discussing the farm bill, trade disputes, and other topics. “He stands ready to work with the House and Senate to ensure the farm bill is enacted on time,” said White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters. “The president understands the significance of the farm bill and looks forward to continuing the conversation.” White House agriculture advisor Ray Starling and economic advisor Larry Kudlow attended the meeting.

For the second day in a row, the president urged making tougher work requirements part of the farm bill. The White House, however, quashed speculation on Wednesday that the president might veto a farm bill without strong work rules.

“I asked him to use his prodigious social media array to help promote getting it [the farm bill] out of the House, and hopefully he will do that,” said Conaway.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans “are proposing a bureaucratic conspiracy to undermine the decency of America” through complicated paperwork rules that will disqualify people from SNAP. “We know we have to make the fight,” Pelosi said at a news conference. “Hands off SNAP.”

The House Rules Committee, which sets the terms for debate on legislation, set a deadline of today at 10 a.m. ET for representatives to propose amendments for the farm bill. The committee is expected to meet next week to decide which amendments will be considered, one of the final steps before the farm bill could be called for debate, possibly at mid-week.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy listed the farm bill and one other bill as the major items for consideration next week but did not set a specific day.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and an array of national and state-level groups signed a letter opposing “harmful amendments” to the farm bill. They named three in particular: “to gut crop insurance, undermine sugar policy, and impose unworkable payment limits.” The small-government group Americans for Prosperity says the farm program has “gone above and beyond what qualifies as a ‘safety net’ for farmers. The bill makes it easier for multiple owners of large agribusinesses to receive subsidies. Relatives who don’t even live or work on a family-owned farm can receive thousands of dollars in annual payouts.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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