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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Conaway Offers Remarks on the 2018 Farm Bill Before House Rules Committee

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway offered the below remarks before the House Rules Committee regarding the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act (H.R.2):

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member McGovern, and members of the committee. I appreciate the opportunity to come before you today concerning the farm bill.

H.R. 2—the Agriculture & Nutrition Act of 2018—is the product of a three-year process. This includes 114 hearings, six listening sessions in the field and countless meetings with folks representing Americans served by every facet of the farm bill.

I acknowledge that the process has become partisan—and that is unfortunate. That said, the ranking member and I did work very closely in crafting the lion’s share of the farm bill—and I greatly appreciate his contributions.

Ultimately, the committee reached an impasse over the nutrition title, primarily over the question of whether work-capable adults should work or get free work training for 20 hours per week to be eligible for SNAP benefits. I respect the views of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle on this question—even though I do not share their conclusion.

I believe that the best measure of success for SNAP is how many people on the program we can help land a job that puts food on the table, a roof over their head, and a better, brighter future for them and their families. I have an abiding faith in the dignity of work and the promise of a better life that work brings to people. I know my friends on the other side of the aisle feel as passionately about this topic as I do—although from a different perspective. I hope that members on both side of the aisle—including me—can learn from each other this week as we debate this issue.

Outside of SNAP, I want to underscore to this committee just how important passage of the farm bill is right now. We are in the midst of a five-year recession in agriculture. Farmers and ranchers have seen net farm income drop by 52 percent. This is among the steepest declines in net farm income since the Great Depression. Three Wall Street Journal headlines help tell the story.

One headline reads: “The Next American Farm Bust is Upon Us”.

Another reads: “To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs”. That article chronicles farmers taking on a second and even a third job, working 16 hours a day just to make ends meet.

And, finally, the third article, which really hits home, reads: “Farmers Across High Plains Brace for Hard Times as Drought Bears Down". Ladies and gentlemen, Midland, Texas has seen about an inch of rain over the past 195 days. I know the members on this panel have also seen natural disasters close up, including recent hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires.

It is heart wrenching.

Farmers and ranchers feel the effects of these natural disasters first—and hardest. And this is a big part of why we have farm policy in this country.

But, it is important to understand that even farmers and ranchers in parts of the country enjoying relatively good growing conditions are struggling right now. Losing half of your income will do that.

A big part of the problem for our farmers and ranchers is that foreign countries, including China, India, and other world players, have been doubling down on their already high subsidies, tariffs, and other trade barriers. These barriers to trade distort global markets, depressing the prices that our farmers and ranchers receive in the marketplace.

Just last week, our government called out India for trying to hide its illegal subsidies by not reporting them to the WTO. And, not long ago, we discovered that China illegally over-subsidized just three crops by more than $100 billion in a single year. To put this into perspective, it would take 8 years for the entirety of the safety net under this farm bill to spend that kind of money. That is what our farmers and ranchers are up against. These incidents are not exceptions to the rule.

Meanwhile, here at home, we have been cutting back on support to farmers and ranchers. As you know, the 2014 Farm Bill pledged $23 billion in taxpayer savings. However, the latest CBO budget baseline says that savings will actually exceed $112 billion, nearly 5 times what was pledged. These savings are partially the result of reforms in agriculture that build on previous market-oriented reforms that began in 1996.

The farm safety net—specifically, the Commodity and Crop Insurance Titles—today constitutes only about one quarter of 1 percent of the entire federal budget. Yet, for this investment, Americans enjoy the lowest grocery bills in the world. And, American agriculture provides us with a rare trade surplus while creating 21 million American jobs.

I say all of this because I am not always certain that everyone in Washington fully appreciates just how much is at stake here—and just how precarious the situation is right now in farm country.

We are preparing to take a farm bill across the floor of the House amidst conditions where many farmers and ranchers across the country are just one bad year away from being forced out of business. And they are increasingly telling their kids to head to the city because there’s no way the farm can support them all. And the number of full time farmers and ranchers—the ones primarily feeding and clothing the country and much of the world—is dwindling. This is despite the fact that we are speeding toward that day when 9 billion people will inhabit this planet, all needing to be fed and clothed.

There are many things I would like to tout about this farm bill.

I am proud of the committee’s work product. But, I want to leave you with this thought as you deliberate on the rule that will govern debate over this legislation.

A cottage industry has grown up in Washington that is bent around the axle on undoing farm policy. Many of these groups—from both ends of the political spectrum—are well-heeled, and they spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on this area of policy that is actually working very well. I support a full-throated debate over the farm bill, but I also want everyone to be aware of what is at stake here.

I have great respect for the chairman, the ranking member, and the members of this committee and trust that you will work to strike the proper balance to ensure that the farm bill debate is an informed and worthy one.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to come before you today.