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House clears 2018 farm bill for Trump signature

December 12, 2018
In The News

A new five-year farm bill that enhances existing programs while offering new assistance to less traditional forms of agriculture and legalizing industrial hemp easily won final congressional approval from the House on Wednesday, sending the measure to President Donald Trump for his signature. 

The whopping margin on the final vote, 369-47, mirrored a similarly large vote in the Senate on Tuesday, 87-13. On final passage, 182 Republicans and 187 Democrats voted in favor. Forty-four Republicans, many of whom are members of the Freedom Caucus, and three Democrats voted against it.

The outcome in the House marked a sharp contrast to the last time a version of the bill was before the House. No Democrats voted for that bill, which would have tightened work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  

Trump is expected to sign the bill. It would mark the first time since 1990 that a farm bill has been enacted in the same year that it was introduced. Since then it has taken Congress two to three years to finish its work. 

“Although it started as a partisan product, it ended as a bipartisan bill,” Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., said before the final vote. 

Seeking to win over GOP colleagues, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said he did what he could to reform SNAP and forest management policy, two issues where he faced stiff resistance from Senate Democrats. 

“Ultimately, I had to make a decision between making as many inroads on reform in these areas as I could or allow farmers and ranchers to be held hostage,” Conaway said. 

“Faced with that choice, I chose the route of getting this farm bill done. We made inroads wherever we could on important reforms. And we worked to provide the strongest safety net possible for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue welcomed the bill's passage, acknowledging that he  failed to get the SNAP reforms and new forest management authority that he wanted. 

"This farm bill will help producers make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster exports.  While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain SNAP recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities," Perdue said. 

Passage of the compromise bill in the House was never in doubt, but there was a chance the earlier in the day that Republicans might once again face embarrassment when handling a farm bill. 

The rule for debating the bill passed by only three votes, 206-203, with most Democrats voting against it because of an unrelated provision that precluded the House from taking a vote in relation to the war in Yemen. 

Five Democrats, including four members of the House Agriculture Committee, voted for the rule, preventing it from failing. Eighteen Republicans voted against the rule. 

One of the five Democrats was the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who told reporters later that he recruited the other Democratic colleagues to vote for the rule after Conaway approached him seeking help. Peterson said he had only learned about the Yemen link to the rule an hour or so before the scheduled vote. 

The uncertainty over the rule vote hearkened back to May, when the committee’s farm bill failed on the House floor after conservatives demanded that the chamber first consider some immigration legislation. In 2013, a farm bill failed on the House floor when Democrats balked at a GOP amendment that targeted the SNAP program. 

House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, signaled some flexibility ahead of the rule vote, promising that the Yemen issue could be revisited next week if a classified briefing raised new concerns. 

The ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, urged his colleagues to oppose the rule but vote for the bill. McGovern, who also is the ranking Democrat on House Agriculture's nutrition subcommittee, had been one of the most outspoken critics of the SNAP reforms in the original House bill, which would have expanded work requirements to adults in their 50s and parents of school-age children. 

The compromise bill "does no harm. It doesn’t increase hunger," McGovern said. 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, praised the bill as a reflection of the needs of both urban and rural areas. 

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