On June 21st, the U.S. House of Representatives passed their version of the Farm Bill on a narrow (213-211), largely party line vote. The Senate passed their version June 28th in a much more bi-partisan fashion (86-11). The House bill drastically changes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Senate version pulls money from textile mills and puts it in to biomass and renewable fuels, just to highlight a few differences.
While we all took high school civics and understand the basics of the legislative process, this legislation isn’t exactly ready for President Trump’s signature, and in several ways is being ready to be actually written. The Farm Bill’s next stop is a conference committee, a temporary panel of members of both houses and both parties. The members are appointed by the leadership in concert with the chairs and ranking members of the committee in which the legislation originated (in this case, the agriculture committees of each respective house), with the possibility of members of other committees of jurisdiction.
The purpose of the conference committee is to come together (a term rarely used in Washington today) to draft a conference report that can be passed by both houses. While the committee cannot re-write the bill, sometimes things that were not included in the original legislation can find their way in. Conferees may also put their own signature to the report that represents the “local flair” of their constituents. News out of the conference committee may be slim, as most of the proceedings will take place behind closed doors.
This is obviously an extremely important part of the process in getting American farmers and consumers a Farm Bill. The hope is that this legislation will be passed fairly quickly and with as little drama as possible in order to give farmers and markets the stability to feed and clothe our nation over the next five years. All of American agriculture will watch anxiously to see which legislators are appointed to the committee.