Republicans press Speaker Mike Johnson to act swiftly on Farm Bill

Dozens of conservative lawmakers sent a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson pressing the top House Republican to act swiftly on a sprawling bill that governs many agricultural and food programs. 

The letter, led by Rep. Brad Finstad of Minnesota, was signed by over 60 House Republicans. The lawmakers urged that Mr. Johnson of Louisiana ensure “swift passage” of the Farm Bill. The last version of the legislation expired at the end of September.

“The Farm Bill is a critical agenda item that must be addressed this Congress,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you and the Conference at-large to be united in ensuring swift passage of a strong Farm Bill that is written by farmers, for farmers, and by rural communities, for rural communities – supporting the farm, ranch, and forester families we represent.”

The Farm Bill is a sweeping omnibus package that is considered by lawmakers roughly every five years. The legislation includes numerous measures that fund agricultural and food programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Nutrition programs make up the lion’s share of the bill, accounting for about 80% of spending in the legislation. 

Work requirements in SNAP and other nutrition programs have been a point of contention for Republicans during the negotiations of the bill. 

The lapse of the last iteration of the Farm Bill, which was passed in 2018, has thrown some of the programs that need reauthorization in jeopardy.  Some programs, like crop insurance, can continue without action from lawmakers. 

Lawmakers pitched the economic benefits of the agricultural sector, which they said produced $7.4 trillion in economic activity. 

“Simply put, farm and food security is national security,” the lawmakers wrote. “For a mere one-fifth of one percent of federal spending, the farm safety net, including commodity support programs and crop insurance, provides farmers and ranchers the foundation they need to manage risk, pass their farm or ranch down to the next generation, and continue producing the highest quality, lowest cost food, fuel, fiber, and forestry products in the world.”

Mr. Johnson’s rough legislative schedule has the Farm Bill slotted for action in December. There are also several other time-sensitive issues that Congress has to address, including a looming deadline to fund the government and constructing and advancing an aid package in response to President Biden’s emergency funding request. 

The deadline to fund the government is Nov. 17, and Mr. Johnson has promised to advance spending bills from the House one at a time — the lower chamber has moved four out of 12 government funding bills so far. 

However, the deep cuts in many of the bills and conservative policies attached to them are nonstarters for the Democrat-led Senate, meaning a negotiating process to find middle ground on the government funding between the two chambers will take time. 

Lawmakers must also respond to Mr. Biden’s $106 billion emergency funding package, which includes aid for Israel, Ukraine and border security. The majority of the president’s request, or about $60 billion, would be for Ukraine. 

The speaker affirmed that funding for Israel and Ukraine should be split. Meanwhile,  Republicans have made clear that Congress should not spend more money in Ukraine until Mr. Biden produces an action plan for the country’s involvement in the region. 

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