WASHINGTON — The Senate Agriculture Committee has released a bipartisan farm bill that makes mostly modest adjustments to existing programs and, unlike the House version of the bill, doesn’t pick a fight over food stamps.
The Senate bill is budget-neutral and aims to renew subsidy, conservation, nutrition, rural development and commodity programs set to expire on Sept. 30.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill also includes a measure to legalize industrial hemp. In April, McConnell introduced a hemp legalization bill, which he said in a news release has garnered support of 24 other senators.
The farm bill was sent to the committee for a vote this week and sets up a possible confrontation with the House, whose bill went after the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. The House bill passed the committee on party lines, but last month failed on the floor when a group of conservative lawmakers blocked its passage over an unrelated immigration bill.
House Democrats refused to support the bill, which sought sweeping changes to the SNAP program that included tightening work requirements for aid recipients. The House bill also sought to impose work requirements on parents with children older than 6.
The House is planning to take up its version of the bill again sometime this month.
Senators praised their version of the bill for its bipartisan nature.
"When Ranking Member Stabenow and I started this journey in Manhattan, Kansas, last year, we made a commitment to make tough choices and produce a good, bipartisan Farm Bill," Chairman Pat Roberts said in a statement. "I’m pleased that today marks a big step in the process to get a farm bill reauthorized on time."
Farm, nutrition, conservation and research groups also praised the bill.
"Times like these require the certainty of a farm bill and an adequate safety net for family farmers. The Senate’s draft text of the 2018 farm bill makes significant improvements over the current version of the House bill," National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we will encourage the Senate to make important improvements to the farm safety net and to programs that enhance long-term sustainability and access to markets for family farmers and ranchers."