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Chairman Conaway Talks Farm Bill on Agri-Pulse Open Mic

Chairman Mike Conaway (TX-11) joined Agri-Pulse Open Mic with Jeff Nalley on Sunday, April 15th to discuss the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2). HERE is a link to the interview and below are highlights from the Chairman’s interview:

On the Farm Safety Net:
“I think it’s important that we get this ’18 Farm Bill done because if producers want to flip from ARC to PLC they can’t do that unless I get this reauthorization done. Given the way those two interact with falling prices and long-term depressed prices, folks want to change up that piece of the safety net. I can’t get them that opportunity unless we get the farm bill done.”

“Collin wanted to change the dairy program. He didn’t think it was as good as it could be. I told him he had to live within the money that was there and he did. So he made some changes to hit that we agreed to. Those changes survived obviously everything, so they are in the bill that he will now vote against I guess if he decides to vote no on the bill.”

On working with Democrats:
“If in fact they [Democrats] do want to negotiate and want to make some improvements, absolutely. We are ready to get that going because I want this bill to be the best possible and if it can be bipartisan that would be even better."

“I didn’t change anything that he and I agreed to before this impasse over SNAP occurred in March. All those Democrat priorities are in there. If they vote no, they are going to be voting against their own interests, their own things they told me were important to them for their constituents back home.”

On Whether Democrats' Impasse Stems from November Election Hopes:
“I just know that we have not been able to replicate the bipartisan work that Lucas and Collin did with respect to the ’14 Farm Bill when Lucas was trying to negotiate an actual cut to spending in SNAP, an actual reduction in SNAP. I was able to just live within the SNAP numbers and I would’ve thought it would’ve been easier to negotiate just making SNAP better without cutting funding out of it than it was in ’14. Somehow Collin and Frank were able to negotiate cuts to SNAP in ’14, and yet today when I don’t have any cuts to have to negotiate, he was unable to negotiate with me on that. I just know it is different than it was in ’14, but you’ll have to speculate your own self as to why, or ask Collin.”

On Democrats' Claim SNAP Modifications Take Food Away from Those Who Need It:
“Where do we take food away from hungry people? … My answer exactly. If you’re making 130% of the poverty line or less, if your asset test are less than what’s in there, you get food stamps. Now, if you’re willing to work, if you’re willing to train, and you’re not a parent of a 6-year-old or younger and you’re not mentally or physically disabled then you’re going to have opportunities for food stamps. So, we don’t kick anybody off the program per se.”

On SNAP Work Requirements:
“Our bill is built on the flexibility afforded to states to deal with their 18-59 year-old work-capable population that are unemployed or underemployed. We want those folks to get the help they need, but we want them helping themselves. America is generally really big-hearted and someone who is willing to help themselves to better their circumstances or to cope with maybe a bad decision they made along the way that got them jammed up. We want them to have the opportunity to get on that on-ramp to success and find one of those 6.3 million jobs that are unfilled right now within our economy. The whole of that idea was to provide training dollars for states to administer for their own population.”

On Whether SNAP E&T Funding Creates Bureaucracy:
“I know Collin and others have made this argument that there is a big bureaucracy being created. I don’t know where that is. To try and do something in D.C. that would fit the pistol of all 50 states is a bit arrogant. So what we say is governors in those states, you have a work-capable population aged 18-59 that are unemployed and you need to come up with a plan within those parameters, the broad parameters we’ll set. They have two years to come up with a plan. The plan focuses on using existing training opportunities whether it’s WIOA, community colleges, whatever of those are out there, to fit the jobs available within a particular state. The governors got that flexibility to put that together. He does not need to put together a big bureaucracy."

On SNAP Recipient's Choice:
“If food stamps are not important enough to you to work for 20 hours a week or more or to train, then that’s a decision you get to make for yourself. We’re Americans, that’s a decision you get the make, and I am not going to force you to take the help that you don’t want.”

On Senate Action:
“I’ve got good confidence [Chairman] Pat [Roberts] and I can work well together to meld the two bills into one. I’m not arrogant or naïve enough to think that my bill will be what goes to the president’s desk. It will be a blend of what’s done in the Senate and the House as is always the case. But, first steps first and that is get it out of committee and then get it out of the House.”

On Whether Current Strategy Could Endanger Farm Programs on the House Floor:
“The way I look at it, Jeff, is my Democrat colleagues would vote to strip out crop insurance or hurt Title 1 as a punishment to Conaway because they didn’t get their way on the markup. That logic doesn’t seem to work.”

On Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Changes:
“Yes we are going to increase the acreage. Acreage is going to be focused on working grasslands acreage and those kind of things targeted toward lands that we want this program going to. So, Collin again had great input in that program and got it the way he wanted it at the time that we made the deal. So this is another one of those areas where Collin got what he asked for in terms of CRP.”

On Trade with China:
“China is not a developing country. It is developed. It is not an agrarian society, the way it might have been in the past. So, there are legitimate reasons why we need these trade deals re-done, and the tariff fights the president is having. I keep reminding anyone who will listen—don’t screw it up Mr. President and get it done as quick as you can because there are in fact day to day consequences to good people out in the countryside.”

Why it is Important to Pass a Farm Bill:
“50% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Their cost of food is a big deal. Getting this thing done, getting the assurance of what that next 5-year farm programs will look like is really important. Right, wrong or indifferent, most folks deal with the facts as opposed to uncertainty and would prefer that. Most of the folks that I represent don’t want a lot of drama associated with this. They want it done and signed by the president so on Oct. 1st it moves forward.”

On Final House Passage:
[When members vote on the House floor] “The green lights [in favor] will say I stand with production America, I stand to try and help them with this 50% drop in net farm income over the last 5 years, I stand with SNAP recipients who deserve a better path to success going forward. The red lights will simply say, I don’t stand with those folks. There won’t be Republicans on the board up there, there won’t be Democrats on the board. There will just be red and green and that’s the count. At the end of the day, every member gets to decide for themselves who they are going to stand with in this fight.”