- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2018

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said Wednesday he was still rounding up votes for the 2018 farm bill and that he told his fellow Republicans they’ll need to carry the bulk of the load amid near-unified Democratic opposition.

“We are close,” he said in a brief interview after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. “We’ve got to have every vote, but given that we don’t anticipate any Democrat votes coming across, we’ve got to provide just all Republicans.”

“That’s a harder row than previous farm bills, because previously it had been bipartisan,” the Texas Republican said.

House Republicans are aiming for a vote later this week on the bill, which extends through 2023 federal agriculture and food programs, including certain subsidies for crops and farmers.

As Mr. Conaway indicated, Democrats are pledging near-unified opposition, saying it’s Republicans who poisoned what’s typically a bipartisan effort by pursuing new work requirements for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments, or food stamps.

But the GOP says the new requirements bolster workforce development and that individuals won’t lose their SNAP benefits unless they decline to work or pursue job training.

“With these reforms, we are focused on empowering people,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said.

Still, some moderates are also concerned about the food stamp changes, while conservatives have expressed concerns about the increased spending on employment and training programs to help recipients meet the new requirements, among other areas.

Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a leading House conservative, said Wednesday he supports the new work requirements, but put the prospects for House passage of the bill by the end of the week at “50-50.”

“We are working on amendments to improve the farm bill,” said Mr. Walker, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House conservatives. “We think it’s trending the right direction, but I don’t think the RSC as a whole has completely signed off on it yet.”

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a separate bloc of about three dozen hardline conservatives, are also pondering an exchange in which members would agree to support the farm bill if leadership gives them a vote on a conservative immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.

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