House GOP loses farm bill fight for tougher work re­quire­ments for food aid re­cip­i­ents

The Wichita Eagle - - News - BY BRYAN LOWRY AND KATE IRBY [email protected]­ [email protected]­ The McClatchy Wash­ing­ton Bureau’s Les­ley Clark con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Fed­eral food aid re­cip­i­ents won’t be faced with ma­jor new work re­quire­ments. And changes in forestry pol­icy that made en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists fu­ri­ous are gone.

House Re­pub­li­cans gave up Thurs­day on try­ing to in­clude those pro­vi­sions in a mas­sive farm pol­icy bill, clear­ing the way for a vote in Congress next week.

The con­ces­sions will likely help draw Demo­cratic votes to the bill in the House. Democrats in­di­cated sup­port would be more bi­par­ti­san and fol­low sim­i­lar num­bers on past farm bills, which tend to pass com­fort­ably.

The farm bill will reau­tho­rize the na­tion’s nearly $900 bil­lion in food and agri­cul­ture pro­grams for an­other five years. That in­cludes the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, for­merly known as food stamps, which helps low in­come fam­i­lies pay for food. The bill also deals with crop in­sur­ance, a pro­gram that pro­tects farm­ers against fi­nan­cial losses due to dis­as­ters and droughts.

Out is the House Re­pub­li­cans’ plan, which aimed to ex­pand work re­quire­ments for SNAP ben­e­fi­cia­ries. The GOP wanted the work rules to ap­ply to able-bod­ied adults up to age 59 and to peo­ple with young de­pen­dent chil­dren, an un­pop­u­lar prospect to Democrats. Leav­ing that out will mean more sup­port from House Democrats but will alien­ate some Re­pub­li­cans.

House Re­pub­li­cans lacked enough clout to push for the stricter work re­quire­ments after Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in this month’s House elec­tions.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the lead ne­go­tia­tor for the Se­nate, was vague about the spe­cific pro­vi­sions in the com­pro­mise. But when asked if the bill would be closer to the Se­nate’s plan for SNAP, Roberts replied, “I would say, yes.”

The Se­nate plan in­cluded in­cen­tives for states to ex­pand work train­ing pro­grams and added new ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures to the pro­gram.

“It’s more com­pre­hen­sive and fo­cuses on pro­gram in­tegrity,” Roberts said.

A se­nior Demo­cratic staff mem­ber said while SNAP pro­vi­sions did mostly re­flect the Se­nate ver­sion, there were cer­tain “con­ces­sions” given to House Re­pub­li­cans. But those con­ces­sions will be “tweaks and tight­en­ing” to work re­quire­ments, not “big sweep­ing in­creases,” the staff mem­ber said.

Sen. John Thune, RSouth Dakota, said that the House would largely have to ac­cept the Se­nate’s po­si­tion on the nutri­tion pro­gram.

“I don’t think we can get a sin­gle Demo­crat to vote for some of the re­quire­ments in the House nutri­tion ti­tle,” Thune said.

Some House Re­pub­li­cans are al­ready sig­nal­ing the changes mean they won’t sup­port the fi­nal bill.

Rep. Mark Walker, RNorth Carolina, said on Twit­ter that he couldn’t sup­port the new ver­sion of the farm bill after the con­ces­sions on some key is­sues.

“House con­ser­va­tives, the pres­i­dent and the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans sup­port poli­cies that en­cour­age work and help lift peo­ple out of poverty. As I’ve said for months, those pro­vi­sions have to stay,” Walker said.

But Rep. Roger Mar­shall, R-Kansas, a House Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee mem­ber, said “I think we can get it passed,” even though “for me to sit here and say we’re not go­ing to lose some Re­pub­li­can votes, I can’t say that.” Mar­shall sup­ports the bill be­cause it pre­serves crop in­sur­ance, a top pri­or­ity for his dis­trict.

Thune said Re­pub­li­cans would also make con­ces­sions in the de­bate over for­est fires, an is­sue that had been el­e­vated to the Se­nate and House lead­er­ship teams after ne­go­tia­tors reached an im­passe on the is­sue in the wake of deadly wild­fires in Cal­i­for­nia.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and House Re­pub­li­cans ad­vo­cated for new rules that would ex­pe­dite for­est-thin­ning projects, but Democrats and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups suc­cess­fully protested the mea­sure, warn­ing it would be an in­ef­fec­tive tool against fires. Those con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sions will be com­pletely stripped from the fi­nal ver­sion.

The bill will also in­clude a pro­vi­sion that makes it le­gal for farm­ers to grow and mar­ket hemp prod­ucts, Roberts con­firmed.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a good crop ev­ery­where,” Roberts said. “There’s all sorts of in­dus­trial use for that. We’re not talk­ing about cannabis. We’re talk­ing about in­dus­trial hemp, so it’s an­other crop that we’re very hope­ful can be a real in­come pro­ducer.”

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ken­tucky, had strongly ad­vo­cated hemp le­gal­iza­tion. His home state was once a ma­jor pro­ducer of the crop be­fore its pro­duc­tion be­came out­lawed. The 2014 farm bill had in­cluded a pro­vi­sion that al­lowed states to make lim­ited hemp cul­ti­va­tion le­gal.

Sen­a­tors from both par­ties in­di­cated the fi­nal bill would widely re­sem­ble the Se­nate ver­sion of the bill rather than the House ver­sion, which passed with­out a sin­gle Demo­cratic vote. The Se­nate re­quires at least 60 votes to pass the bill, which means the 51 Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors need Demo­cratic sup­port to pass it, un­like in the House, where Re­pub­li­cans cur­rently have a ma­jor­ity.

The deal came to­gether Wed­nes­day, nearly two months after the Sept. 30 dead­line to pass the bill.

Se­cur­ing the com­pro­mise is a ma­jor win for Roberts.

The 82-year-old Kansas Re­pub­li­can, who was first elected to Congress in 1980, has not ruled out an­other run for U.S. Se­nate in 2020 and would strug­gle to con­vince vot­ers of his vi­a­bil­ity in an agri­cul­ture-de­pen­dent state if Congress failed to pro­duce a farm bill by the end of the year.

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