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Congress allows farm bill to lapse before reauthorization deadline

The Hill logo The Hill 10/1/2018 Juliegrace Brufke

Congress quietly allowed the farm bill to expire over the weekend despite House Republicans' hopes they would come to a consensus and pass a reauthorization ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.

The expiration was blamed on discrepancies between the House and the Senate, as well as the parties, over key provisions, including most prominently over a House provision to attach work requirements to the food stamp benefits in the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Democrats blasted the welfare reform language, arguing the Senate-passed version did not include the changes, while saying the requirements could be detrimental to the safety net relied upon by low-income earners - a criticism Republicans have rebuffed.

While there was talk of a short-term extension, a stop-gap measure ultimately was not brought to the floor before the lower chamber recessed ahead of the midterm elections.

A number of top negotiators - including Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D- Mich.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) - have argued Congress' real deadline isn't until December as the majority of baseline programs remain funded until later this year.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) - who expressed determination to come to a consensus before the end of the weekend - told reporters Friday the lack of urgency to pass the measure could prove to be problematic for those in rural America.

"I will be available here until we get it done, so if the House isn't here I'll be here until we get it done," he said.

The Texas Republican said he didn't feel the Senate showed much willingness to negotiate, adding the upper chamber has pushed to spend the majority of their time deciding on funding for the SNAP program, instead of policy.

"I think you ought to do policy first, they wanted to do funding first," he continued. "I think policy ought to drive the funding, but my colleagues in the Senate think differently so we're making accommodations together."

However, a spokesperson from the Senate Agriculture Committee, rejected that.

a bird standing on a dry grass field © Provided by The Hill

"From the start, the Senate has recognized the importance of passing a Farm Bill on time, which is why the Senate bill moved quickly and passed on a historic bipartisan vote," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"The Senate leaders are working tirelessly on a bipartisan basis to reach a final agreement. If House Republicans are serious about getting this done, they should put politics aside and focus on working towards a compromise."

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said farmers and producers largely won't see a change in the short-term since entities like commodity programs and crop insurance will continue to run as usual.

"We're working with USDA especially on the non-baseline programs so that they keep running," he told The Hill in an interview Monday.

"They're the ones that can be affected over the next few months and for the life of me, I cannot understand why the Democrats in the Senate have decided they didn't want to come up with a compromise."

According to Davis, in addition to the language on SNAP, issues remain over language related to workforce development and skills-building programs Republicans were advocating to be included in the final conference report.

While he's still optimistic they can work something out before December, he said it's unclear whether political motivations will hinder their ability to pass a bipartisan bill.

"I think there's probably more politics at play right now - I mean the Democrats feel emboldened that they may be able to take the majority in the House and the Senate and that they may want to write their old bill rather than pass a compromise," he said.

"And that strategy I think would be devastating to our producers and also devastating to those who are stuck in the cycle of poverty who may want to get some assistance in getting that training and skills to take jobs that are available in our communities."

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters Monday further negotiations are slated to take place this week.

-- Updated on Oct. 2 at 4:05 p.m.

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