Farm Bill Flounders in House
(May 22, 2018) – The U.S House’s 2018 Farm Bill failed on the Floor of the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 198-213. After the failed vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) motioned to reconsider the vote at a later date. Republican leadership is now trying to negotiate a path forward on reconsideration and passage.
The House’s bill is being considered highly partisan due to Republican provisions in the Farm Bill related to stricter eligibility and work requirement reforms for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. Democrats strongly oppose these provisions and the bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee several weeks ago with only Republican support. However, further issues with the bill arose over the past few weeks, among Republicans with some moderates expressing concerns with the SNAP reforms and conservatives expressing concerns with the commodity subsidies the bill provides.
While Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Republican leadership worked to corral differences among their members and believed they secured the necessary votes to pass the Farm Bill, a last-minute demand by the House Freedom Caucus to bring to a vote a controversial immigration bill in exchange for their support of the Farm Bill ultimately led to its failure to garner enough Republican votes to pass. Republican leadership had promised a vote on the immigration bill this summer, however the Freedom Caucus demanded a vote prior to the Farm Bill.
While the above-mentioned issues have delayed the Bill’s passage in the House, eventually a Farm Bill will need to be passed. NACWA has worked with the House this past year to secure inclusion of several priorities important to public clean water utilities. The House bill includes:
- An amendment championed by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) that provides a Sense of Congress that the federal government should recognize and encourage partnerships at the watershed level between nonpoint sources and regulated point sources to advance the goals of the Clean Water Act and provide benefits to farmers, landowners, and the public;
- Several key changes under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that include allowing projects to exceed five-year project terms to meet the objectives of the program, providing a streamlined application process and an expedited project renewal process, and ensuring increased quantification of environmental outcomes;
- Establishing two new conservation provisions under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that require precision conservation management planning and cover crops to be included under the program; and
- Allowing up to $25 million annually in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) to be used to enter into “on farm” agreements for conservation innovation trials for approaches including precision agriculture technology and enhanced nutrient management plans.
The bill also ensures that at least 10 percent of all conservation program funding, which amounts to $400 million, is used to promote water quality and quantity practices that protect source water. This new subsection will increase collaboration with community water systems and offers higher payment rates for practices that result in environmental benefits.
While Congressional leadership continues to work to find a path forward on passage of the House Farm Bill, NACWA is continuing to work with the Senate to ensure inclusion of these and additional provisions in the Senate’s Farm Bill which is expected to be released in a more bipartisan and less contentious manner in early June. Given that the current five-year Farm Bill reauthorization is set to expire on September 30, and the political and policy division that remain with limited legislative days left before the deadline, a temporary extension of the Farm Bill will likely be needed through the fall.
NACWA appreciates the leadership of Congressman Gibbs on his amendment and the collaboration the Association has had with the House on ensuring that many of the priorities of the clean water sector are addressed in the Farm Bill.