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Republican control of the House is set to complicate lawmakers’ hopes of getting the farm bill done on time in 2023.
The GOP’s right flank openly previewed plans to strip the legislation of its nutrition title — which comprises roughly 80% of the bill — according to the conservative Republican Study Committee’s proposed 2023 budget. The same move delayed the farm bill in 2013 and would set up a fight between the two parties. The nutrition section reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, along with a number of other food assistance sources.
The 2018 farm bill expires at the end of next September. Both parties say they want to get a 2023 bill done on time. If they can’t, they’ll need to pass an extension in order to fund programs that feed millions of Americans and keep the nation’s food supply stable and grocery prices affordable, partly by subsidizing farmers.
Observers say a major fight over linking nutrition assistance and farm subsidies — which is more likely given Republican control of the House — could keep Congress from passing a bill until after the 2024 presidential election. The parties are also poised to clash over any emphasis on climate programs in the legislation.
If House Republicans go nuclear on the nutrition title, “then the prospects of actually getting a farm bill done in 2023 are pretty slim,” said Ferd Hoefner, a DC-based consultant who works on agriculture issues. “SNAP more than any other issue will determine, at least, the timeline of whether we get a bill on time.”
The House Freedom Caucus, the GOP’s far-right bloc in Congress, indicated to new members they should plan to use fights on the Farm Bill, along with other major packages, “as leverage points to enact a conservative policy agenda.”
A split Congress, with Democrats in control of the Senate, makes “a fight over the nutrition title more than likely,” said Michael Happ, program associate for climate and rural communities at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Wins for Climate
Though Republicans took the House, they didn’t achieve the “red wave” they previewed in the run-up to the election. A number of key Democrats on the House and Senate agriculture committees, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), held onto seats that before the election looked like they might go red.
“The fact that Spanberger won is big,” Happ said. The Virginia lawmaker chairs the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee and has sponsored legislation aiming to mitigate climate change through farming. “She’s — from lots of different angles — working on climate and agriculture.”
Bennet leads the Senate’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources. His portfolio on agriculture includes helping secure $18.5 billion for “climate-smart” conservation practices in Democrats’ party-line August reconciliation legislation (Public Law 117-169).
“A lot of things that were important to Democrats may now get more Republican support,” said Eric Perner, CEO and co-founder of conservation farming company REP Provisions, referring to investments in regenerative agriculture. He said lawmakers like Bennet staying in power signals popular momentum behind climate-focused conservation programs.
But backlash against targeting conservation funds specifically to climate-smart practices is brewing within the GOP.
“I have been leaning into the climate discussion, but I will not have us suddenly incorporate buzzwords like regenerative agriculture into the farm bill or overemphasize climate,” Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), who plans to chair the House Agriculture Committee, said in September.
Split Government Hurdles
The farm bill is widely considered one of the most bipartisan pieces of legislation in Congress, with geographic concerns often uniting lawmakers from the same regions and muting partisan battles.
“The farm bill is one of the rare things on Capitol Hill that has been bipartisan. I’m confident it’ll continue to be bipartisan,” said Lori Faeth, senior government relations director at the conservation-focused Land Trust Alliance.
Still, fights over conservation and nutrition have embroiled the legislation in inter-party battles in the past.
If Congress doesn’t get the farm bill done by early 2024, Hoefner warned, “chances are nil” of clearing it before 2025. This is largely due to political pressures ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, noted President Joe Biden could veto the farm bill if it isn’t consistent with his values. “At the end of the day, any farm bill has to get 60 votes in the Senate” and be signed by the president, he said.
Issues like climate change, food safety, and diet-related illnesses, many of which have sparked sharp partisan divisions, will need to be resolved with a split government, Faber added.
“if we have a really closely divided chamber, we’re likely to see a status quo farm bill,” Happ said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Maeve Sheehey in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org