Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) Floor Remarks as prepared:
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the conference report to accompany H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
It is fitting that the House considers the Farm Bill because 28 years ago, another proud Texan — President George H.W. Bush — signed the 1990 Farm Bill into law. And, for the first time since 1990, Congress is poised to pass a new farm bill in the same year that the legislation was first introduced.
In many ways, the 1990 Farm Bill laid the groundwork for today’s U.S. farm policy. U.S. farm policy is no longer the old command and control policies of the New Deal — but rather a market-oriented, risk management approach that helps America’s farmers and ranchers survive natural disasters and the predatory trade practices of foreign countries like China. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are the very best in the world — but they cannot compete alone against a sea of high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs, and non-tariff trade barriers. Nor can they survive alone in the face of record droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters.
That’s why we have a Farm Bill. And, Mr. Speaker, not since the early 2000s has a Farm Bill been more desperately needed than it is today.
Our farmers and ranchers are going through a very difficult recession right now. Net farm income is down 50 percent from where it stood just 5 years ago — the largest drop since the Great Depression. And farm bankruptcies are up by more than 30 percent. We have all seen the devastation of recent hurricanes and wildfires.
Less noticed…but no less destructive…is the severe drought that has gripped many parts of the country — perhaps none so much as mine. Even less noticed is the rampant cheating going on in global trade that hurts our farmers and ranchers every single day. China recently over-subsidized just three crops by more than $100 billion in a single year. Put in perspective, China spent more money on excess subsidies in a year than the entire U.S. safety net — covering all commodities — will cost over roughly two farm bills.
This is why passage of the Farm Bill is so important.
This farm bill has not been easy. The needs of farmers and ranchers are greater than they have been in a long time — but we’ve had to operate under a flat budget. For my colleagues who are concerned about deficit spending, please know that this farm bill is budget neutral. This follows on the heels of the 2014 Farm Bill which has come in significantly under budget.
Mr. Speaker, here are some of the specifics of the 2018 Farm Bill.
First, the Farm Bill honors the request of nearly every farmer and rancher…that we do no harm to Federal Crop Insurance.
Second, we strengthen the Farm Bill safety net for all farmers and ranchers. Believe it or not, there was actually pressure from some in the other chamber to cut the farm safety net at a time when the whole point of a farm bill is to help our farm and ranch families.
Third, we strengthened key conservation initiatives, especially the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. These highly successful conservation initiatives serve as a prime example of how voluntary, incentive-based conservation beats burdensome, arbitrary, and costly Washington regulations every time.
Fourth, we honored the requests of farmers and ranchers to fully fund our trade promotion initiatives…which could not be more important than they are right now. This includes fully funding the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program. We also succeeded in maintaining the vital link between America’s farmers and ranchers and U.S. food aid by preserving in-kind food assistance to our neighbors in need from around the world.
Fifth, we make some extremely important investments elsewhere in this farm bill. We increase individual Farm Service Agency loan limits which have not been updated in 16 years. We increase agricultural research funding at a time when we are dangerously lagging behind China. We provide Secretary Perdue with the tools he requested to effectively combat the opioid epidemic and also to expand high quality broadband service to all of rural America. We increase investment in new crop uses and in specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables. And, we increase investment in the nation’s livestock sector by strengthening our nation’s animal disease prevention and management efforts, including the stockpiling of foot-and-mouth disease vaccine.
Finally, it is fair to say that there have been some philosophical differences in this conference committee. Achieving commonsense SNAP reforms, preventing wildfires, and providing regulatory relief are three examples. There is an adage that sunshine is the best disinfectant — and that adage is true. Had the conference committee held public meetings, I believe the process would have benefited and we would have seen better outcomes.
Despite this, we make commonsense reforms that improve program integrity and work requirements under SNAP, including involving governors in work requirement waivers so there is political accountability…and by reducing state allowances for able bodied adults without dependents. We require states to adopt case management practices to help move SNAP beneficiaries from welfare to work, and we eliminate $480 million in bonuses we pay to states for simply doing their job. These and other reforms will build on the success we have had in moving more than 9 million people off of SNAP rolls and into work over the past 5 years.
The farm bill will also help reduce forest fuel loads to reduce the incidence and intensity of wildfires.
This is achieved by expanding the insect and disease categorical exclusion to remove hazardous fuel loads and by empowering state, local, and tribal authorities to remove timber. And nobody deserves more credit for working to improve our nation’s forest management than my friend, Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, who I am proud to have as a signatory to this conference report.
These reforms are important — but they are only a start in what needs to be done. As with any major piece of legislation, we needed willing partners to achieve the greater reforms that many of us envision for these areas — but willing partners were hard to come by.
Ultimately, I had to make a decision between making as many inroads on reform in these areas as I could OR allow farmers and ranchers to be held hostage. Faced with that choice, I chose the route of getting this farm bill done. We made inroads wherever we could on important reforms. And we worked to provide the strongest safety net possible for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.
In closing, I thank the Ranking Member and our counterparts in the other chamber for bringing this conference report to final consideration. I extend my sincere gratitude to President Trump and Secretary Perdue for their unwavering support of our farmers and ranchers. And, I greatly appreciate the support and hard work of the House leadership and Members of my conference, especially my fellow conferees, for all they have done to stand by rural America and those families who feed and clothe us.
For the sake of rural America and our struggling farmers and ranchers, I urge my colleagues to support this farm bill so the President can sign this measure into law.