Over the last week, both the House and Senate passed their versions of a Farm Bill, the comprehensive legislation reauthorizing farm programs and rural development initiatives for the next five years. The current Farm Bill expires September 30.
The House bill squeaked by on a tight vote, while the Senate passed its bill last evening by a wide margin 86-11. Regarding Senate deliberation, we had a fire drill that emerged in the form of an amendment proposed by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that would have made it much more difficult for the forestry sector to utilize the H-2B program. We quickly mobilized and reached out to our contacts on the Hill and our trade association allies to contact leadership to oppose the amendment. Again, thanks to all of you that took action after we sent our grassroots alert out about this development. The good news is we were able to keep the amendment out of the final package.
The bills now go to a conference committee which leadership will be assembling. The exercise will be a difficult one as the two bills take different approaches in several areas. Most contentious will be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House tied SNAP qualification to work requirements, which divided the chamber along partisan lines and was largely the reason for the narrow margin for passage.
For FRA, the House bill includes a number of helpful provisions that will expedite forest management on federal forest landholdings. The Senate does not include this language and we will be advocating for the House position to prevail during conference deliberations.
FRA will keep you regularly apprised of our efforts to influence the conference committee process so that the final Farm Bill that is sent to the President adequately represents the needs of the wood supply chain.
Senate Farm Bill votes by state can be found here.
Senate Farm Bill summary best described here.
Immigration/Guest worker Visas
The House voted again this week on immigration reform legislation. FRA had picked up that our priorities on guest worker visas, specifically provisions of the AG Act, were to be included in the compromise package that House leadership was assembling. This was a surprise development as you recall that the AG Act was defeated on a separate vote last week. However, we immediately sent out a grassroots alert to our members about the development and thanks to all of you who weighed in with your Member of Congress in support of the legislation. Unfortunately, our efforts once again fell short as the bill was defeated on a 121-301 vote. The legislation did not receive a single Democrat vote and drew opposition from scores of Republicans as well who feared electoral repercussions of supporting legislation that included a path to citizenship for so-called “dreamers,” despite the fact that the measure also included border wall funding and some other conservative immigration provisions.
The path forward for our guest worker visa policy objectives is unclear at this point. FRA will be regrouping with our advocacy allies to develop a strategy and will keep you apprised of our progress.