The 2018 Farm Bill legislative process is in full swing. But, with such a complicated procedure, it can challenging to follow where any bill stands. So here is your recap:

  • Both the Senate and House Agricultural Committees created an individual 2018 Farm Bill. After a vote from the House and the Senate agriculture committees the bills were sent to the respective Full House and Senate. As of June 21st, the House of Representatives passed their partisan version of the bill. A few days later on June 28th the Senate passed their bipartisan version.
  • Next both the House and Senate have to decide if a conference committee is needed to reconcile their bills to one bill for the House and Senate to vote on.
  • This all must happen before  the President can sign the final 2018 Farm Bill and make it law before September 30th, 2018 when the 2014 Farm Bill expires.

HOUSE VOTE

On Wednesday, July 18th the House of Representatives moved to have their version of the bill go to conference. After the vote, leadership from both parties will name their conferees, the name for their delegates to the conference committee. Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-R) named the House Republican Members who will negotiate the resolution the House and Senate farm bills to create one piece of legislation. The House Republican members include 13 individuals from the House Agriculture Committee and 2 from the following committees: the House Education and the Workforce, the House Financial Services, the House Foreign Affairs, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, House Natural Resources, The House Science, Space, and Technology, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure.

The same day, the Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-D)  has also named the House Democratic Members to serve on the conference committee. The House Democratic members include 10 from the House Committee and Agriculture and 1 from the following committees: Education and Workforce, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Natural Resources, Oversight and Government Reform, Science, Space and Technology, and Transportation and Infrastructure.

Combined the minority and the majority in the House named 47 conferees to settle the differences between the two versions of the 2018 Farm Bill.

SENATE VOTE

Later than expected, on July 31st, the Senate voted to agree to the House’s request to send the Bill to conference. The Senate took a different path than the House, naming only 9 conferees: 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. On August 1, the Senate Republicans named Pat Roberts, Mitch McConnell, John Boozman, John Hoven, and Joni Ernst. Meanwhile, the Senate Democrats named Debbie Stabenow, Sherrod Brown, Patrick Leahy, and Heidi Heitkamp to the Farm Bill Conference Committee.

CONFERENCE

Moving forward, since the House and the Senate could not independently agree on one bill,  the conference committee’s key responsibility is to reconcile the differences between the two bills from the House and the Senate. Conference is a chance for selected members from both the House and the Senate to get together and reconcile the two versions of the Farm Bill and create one Farm Bill. The debates surrounding the Farm Bill have been controversial and the legislation that comes out of conference must try and rectify them.

There are a few important things about the conference process that advocates should keep in mind:

  • First, no new proposals can be included in the final bill that were not present in the two versions intended to be reconciled. The committee’s available language is limited to only previously voted upon measures.
  • Second, the final product of the conference committee is the conference report. The conference report includes two things: the final language of the bill, expressed as amendments to the most recently passed legislation (in this case the Senate Farm Bill), and the joint explanatory statement. The joint explanatory statement can be a tool for policy because it is officially part of the legislative record. The joint explanatory statement is not voted upon and therefore can have more detailed information, which can be original language. Additionally, agencies often use the joint explanatory statement to know how to interpret legislative provisions.  
  • And finally, in conference, one person does not mean one vote. These are negotiations, not a voted upon resolution. This means that the house does not become more powerful simply because it has over 6 times the representation in the conference room.

FBLE encourages the farm bill conference committee to produce legislation that looks more like the Senate version of the farm bill. The conference committee also  has the opportunity to include explanatory conference reports that can be a very helpful policy tool. This could, for example, include explaining the choices made about large changes to access and added work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) recipients, which is one of the major contrasts between the current House and Senate bills.

DIRECTING THE COMMITTEE

Beyond appointing the conferees the houses can pass non-binding motions that direct the committee to take certain actions on certain issues. This does not happen often, but it is a way for the houses to give their opinions about what should and should not be in the reconciled bill. Recently, the House included a unique motion to instruct the House Committee, to pursue a particular issue that is in the House bill and not the Senate bill. This is HB 2 §1101 which creates permanent mandatory funding for Animal Disease Preparedness and Response.