Passing farm bill in 2018 political climate a hard row to hoe

WASHINGTON (CNS) — For rural advocates, there were a lot of things not to like in this year’s farm bill.

For starters, there was the zeroing out the Conservation Stewardship Program, which has a $1 billion price tag. There also was a rewrite to the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that would kick off 2 million Americas from its rolls, more than canceling out the indexing of benefits for those remaining in the program – not to mention the imposition of work requirements to qualify for the benefit.

When the House voted on the farm bill May 18, the measure’s merits were only partly considered. But what brought it down to a surprising defeat was not its content, but a vastly different subject: immigration.

Some Republicans rebelled against their outgoing House speaker, Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and voted no on the bill in a bid to force a vote on immigration bills that they charge have been stymied by House leadership.

The turn of events left James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, sounding shell-shocked.

“It’s a surprise, but at the same time there were flaws in the bill, so it was already vulnerable,” Ennis told Catholic News Service from Wisconsin, where he was conducting Catholic Rural Life business. “Then the division within the House made it that much more divisive.”

Ennis allowed how the thumbs-down on the farm bill could serve as a catalyst for change within it.

“There’s more time for conversations with representatives who are concerned about those kinds of questions. There will be opportunities that maybe convince some to make some revisions,” he said.

“But then again, that’s what myself, Catholic Rural Life, and Catholic Charities and the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) are trying to do by getting messages out to our constituents,” he said. “So, let’s continue to communicate these concerns. There may be some opportunities to get some changes in this version of the farm bill.”

A new vote on a farm bill during the third week of June is anticipated.

No farm bill? No problem. Maybe, said Catholic Rural Life’s Ennis.

“They may pass a continuing a resolution. It depends how long that is,” he said. “The 2012 farm bill became the 2014 farm bill. I don’t think they don’t want to go down that road again, but that’s always a possibility because of the midterm elections.”

The farm bill is supposed to have a five-year lifespan.

“Maybe it’s better to wait a year,” Ennis sighed. “Who knows their thinking?”

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