U.S. farm bill timeline remains in limbo

by Ron Sterk
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TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN, U.S. — Views as to when or if a new farm bill may be passed this year varied among speakers at the opening sessions of the 35th International Sweetener Symposium here Aug. 6.

David Wasserman, U.S. House editor, The Cook Political Report, and a political analyst for several television networks, said “We probably are heading for a bill closer to the Senate version,” adding that he had never seen such poor relations on the House agriculture committee concerning views toward the farm bill.

The House version of the farm bill passed along party lines, with the major debate focused on work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients favored by Republicans. The Senate version of the bill does not include the SNAP work requirements.

Both versions of the bill included maintaining the U.S. sugar program in its current form. Although there was the normal, if not more, debate between policy stances of sugar producers, who favor the sugar program as it is, and sugar users, who seek change, votes in both Houses to maintain the program (or not to introduce a reform amendment) were much more in favor of sugar producers’ stance this year than in the previous farm bill.

Frank Jenkins, president of JSG Commodities, Wilton, Connecticut, U.S., predicted a different outcome of what he called a “very contentious” farm bill.

“We think a one-year extension of the current bill is most likely,” Jenkins said.

Concerning mid-term elections, Wasserman predicted Democrats would take control of the House of Representatives, although it was uncertain by how large a margin. He expected the Senate will remain under the control of Republicans.

“When going into a mid-term election and the president has a low approval rating, you tend to lose the House,” Wasserman said. “I think this will happen.”

He noted President Donald Trump’s approval rating in the 41% to 42% range.

He suggested the House and Senate were shaping up to be two different mid-term elections, in part because of rural “red” states favoring Republicans in the Senate and urban “blue” states favoring Democrats in the House.

While the current strong economy can’t be overlooked as providing support for Republicans, Wasserman also said that Republicans should not necessarily be expected to win in states that voted heavily for president Trump in 2016, some of which included Democrats disenchanted with Hillary Clinton. He also said that the longer trade issues go on and commodity prices remain under pressure, the less “wiggle room” there is for Republican candidates.

He said Democrats continued to have an “enormous geographical problem” due in part to redrawing of congressional district lines, which put the electoral college in favor of Republicans since Democrat votes are “clustered” in coastal states that already have large numbers of Democrats, while Republicans pick up more counties in rural areas.

At the same time, Trump’s stands on trade, guns and immigration won over a certain number of blue-collar, non-college-educated Democrats in 2016 that may not vote for a Republican other than Trump, Wassserman said. He also said college-educated women voters, who tend to turn out in larger numbers for mid-term elections, would be more likely to vote Democrat.

The International Sweetener Symposium is sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance, which represents sugar beet and cane growers, processors, refiners and related industries.

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