Farm Bill Conference Ahead

Members of Congress are gearing up for a farm bill showdown as conference negotiations on the bill will soon take place. The first task will be to determine which lawmakers will sit on the committee. House and Senate agriculture staffers have likely already begun working behind the scenes to start merging the bills.

A number of difficult decisions are ahead for conference talks, and none more so than finding a solution to the two bills' competing approaches to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow's, D-Mich., combined efforts to defeat an amendment that would have tightened SNAP, all but ensure the Senate has no intention of substantially changing the food stamp program. In addition to SNAP, sorting out the differences between the bills' conservation titles will also be a challenge. Each bill would tweak the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s three flagship conservation programs in different ways, but the biggest hurdle will be how to address the House's plan to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program and fold parts of it into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. "The discussions with respect to the Senate, and all of those issues, will mean compromise, and no one's going to get it exactly the way they want it," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said. The conference committee will also have to play the numbers game to bridge a wide funding gap between the two conservation titles. The House bill seeks to make $800 million in cuts to conservation programs over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate measure makes no overall cuts to the conservation title, although some programs would see slight reductions as resources are reshuffled.

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