By Joe Rutherford
House and Senate conferees on the federal farm bill met in public session for the first and possibly only time Wednesday in an effort both sides of the aisle say is critical in proving the ability to govern in a bipartisan, productive way.
Wednesday’s meeting carried enhanced importance because part of the federal nutrition program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) expires today, posing food and nutrition shortages on an individual level for millions and for nonprofits providing people who need food/nutrition assistance.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, said in his opening remarks on Wednesday, “Farm bills always reflect the times in which they are drafted.”
“The time to complete our work has come. The farm bill expired on Sept. 30, so it is important that we reach a consensus and craft a conference report that will pass both the House and the Senate as soon as possible,” he said.
“As we complete our work on the final agreement for all 12 titles of the farm bill, we should keep in mind all of those who rely on the programs contained in this legislation,” said Cochran.
Cochran and Senate committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., indicated Wednesday that the expiration of $11 billion in nutrition spending today may provide the leverage leading to a compromise in the spending ultimately decided for SNAP and other federal programs.
The Senate agreed on nutrition cuts of $4 billion, much smaller than the $39 billion in cuts approved by the House.
However, nothing in more than two hours of opening statements suggested compromises have been decided.
All the principal leaders within the conference – Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in the House, and D-Mich., and Cochran – all expressed hope that the conference committee will be able to keep control of the farm bill and finish it this year.
The budget committee has indicated it might take a crack at doing the math on the farm bill, which brought sharp rejections from both Democrats and Republicans on the Agriculture conference.