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December 4th, 2018

D.C. Update: After Midterms, Farm Bill Talks Speed Up

The much-anticipated midterm elections on the sixth were the major event of November, leading Congress to make progress on a compromise 2018 Farm Bill with the goal of finalizing it the lame duck session.

Midterm Elections

The midterm elections resulted in a flip in the House from a Republican to a Democratic majority, while the Republican party gained a slightly larger majority in the Senate. There were a limited number of Representatives and Senators from the respective agriculture committees who either retired or did not win reelection. Because of the change in majority in the House, Ranking Member Peterson is expected to retake the mantle of House Agriculture Committee Chair. On the Senate side, there has been some speculation that Ranking Member Senator Stabenow could take up the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Committee assignments are expected in late January after the new Congressional class is sworn in.

In addition to changes in Congress, many states are likely to see changes in the leadership of their department of agriculture. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has created a helpful infographic to show states with newly elected commissioners of agriculture and governors.

Farm Bill Deal Announced

All throughout November, the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership and staff worked tirelessly to reach an agreement on a compromise Farm Bill. After several starts and stops over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, crop insurance, and forestry among other topics, the leadership announced an agreement in principle on Nov. 29. While details have not been formally released, it has been reported the House Farm Bill’s changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will not be included in the final bill, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s changes relating to hemp production will be included.

Looking Ahead

The 115th Congress has two more weeks of scheduled time in session in December and several major priorities to complete in that time. Government funding for several agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, is set to run out on Dec. 7, so an extension or new appropriations legislation will be necessary by that date in order to avoid a shutdown. Time is also running short to pass a new Farm Bill, as some programs (including dairy support programs) will cease to function at the end of the calendar year.

In remembrance of late President George H. W. Bush, votes for the first week of December have been cancelled in the House, and postponed until Wednesday in the Senate; this tribute will further shorten the amount of legislative time remaining for the lame duck session.