Oct 10, 2023

Farm bill stalled amid U.S. House speaker battle, delay of spending bills

Posted Oct 10, 2023 1:00 PM
 Rows of soybean plants grow in the fields at Seidenstricker Farms, owned by Robert and Cathy Seidenstricker, in De Valls Bluff, Arkansas, on June 25, 2019. (USDA photo by Lance Cheung)
Rows of soybean plants grow in the fields at Seidenstricker Farms, owned by Robert and Cathy Seidenstricker, in De Valls Bluff, Arkansas, on June 25, 2019. (USDA photo by Lance Cheung)

By ASHLEY MURRAY, States Newsroom

WASHINGTON — As Congress faces another pressing deadline to fund the government and the U.S. House grinds to a halt without a speaker, the reauthorization of the nation’s agriculture and hunger programs has taken a back seat.

But lawmakers tasked with shepherding the new version maintain their progress is “in good shape.”

The previous farm bill expired Sept. 30 and its renewal, a process that occurs every five years, remains “in the drafting stage,” said Sen. John Boozman, the Arkansas GOP lawmaker and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“I know myself and Sen. Stabenow, our teams are working together to try and get ideas in the text. And so we’re moving forward,” Boozman told reporters Wednesday.

Stabenow of Michigan chairs the committee.

“It’s been difficult because the appropriations process has kind of sucked all the wind out. But we’re in good shape. We don’t need an extension until the first of the year. If we do need an extension, I think we’ll be looking in the November time frame as we do the CR.”

The CR, or continuing resolution, is the funding compromise Congress struck last weekend just hours before a partial government shutdown. The temporary spending measure expires Nov. 17.

The farm bill and long-term government funding are completely different processes, but GOP House majority infighting over appropriations has stalled other priorities.

And, with the ouster of former House Speaker and California Republican Kevin McCarthy by a handful of far-right party members and all House Democrats, the lower chamber is frozen.

“As with every Farm Bill, there are forces and circumstances out of our control. What is always a complicated process has become a little more complicated, but our work continues to produce an effective Farm Bill,” said Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, who chairs the House Committee on Agriculture, in an emailed statement.

Worries over lack of progress 

Thompson and fellow lawmakers have spent thousands of hours over the past two years collecting feedback from constituents on what they want to see in the multi-year bill, which is forecast to cost $1.5 trillion.

But some constituents say despite reassurance that the farm bill is progressing, they remain concerned about its delay, as well as funding for several of its programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

As a mandatory program, SNAP will continue as long as Congress approves either temporary or long-term government funding.

“The delay in considering important legislation, such as agriculture appropriations and the farm bill, creates a great deal of uncertainty for farmers and ranchers. The 2018 farm bill already expired,” Sam Kieffer, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement.

“All families, including those in rural America, face rising interest rates, high inflation and turbulence in the marketplace,” he continued. “The farm bill provides certainty to those who grow this nation’s food, fuel and fiber and is crucial to ensuring a safe and affordable food supply. Congress has always come through on a farm bill, and they must do it again. Every family in America is counting on it.”

The 2018 farm bill was not signed into law until Dec. 20 of that year.

The expansive agricultural and food policy bill covers farmer safety net programs, conservation and sustainability incentives, international trade, rural area development, and food and nutrition programs for low-income earners — the last of which accounts for the largest portion of the bill. The legislation is one of Congress’ omnibus packages, meaning it’s made up of numerous provisions from many lawmakers.