Stalled farm bill could move fast after House win: senior Democratic lawmaker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress may swiftly resolve a drawn-out impasse on the U.S. Farm Bill now that Democrats are poised to retake control of the legislative body, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said on Wednesday.

Collin Peterson, ranking member and presumptive new chair of committee, said passing the crucial agricultural legislation was going to be his top priority, with a deal possible as soon as next week during the lame-duck session.

“That’s going to be the number one goal,” he told reporters on a conference call. “My sense is this is going to get worked out (in the lame-duck session).”

The Farm Bill provides funding for an array of programs important to farmers – a crucial constituency for Republican President Donald Trump – including crop subsidies and rural development. But the latest bill, passed in 2014, expired on Sept.30 after talks over its replacement broke down.

At issue has been a provision in the new draft of the bill that would impose stricter work requirements for recipients of food stamps. The Republican-led House of Representatives passed the $867 billion bill in June with the tougher requirements, over the objections of Democrats.

The Senate, meanwhile, passed its own bipartisan version that excluded the requirements.

Now that the Democrats have gained control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, the deadlock could be resolved, Peterson said. “Most of the ideas are out there and drafted. It is a matter of putting them together. If that could get resolved this week, then we’d have a bill ready by next week,” he said.

He added that he has held talks about the issue with other Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, seen as a front runner to become House Speaker.

“There’s no indication or idea on the Democrat side in the House that we would like to delay this thing,” he said.

Food stamps are used by more than 40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population, and the program’s inclusion in the Farm Bill has long been used as a way to get support from Democrats who represent urban districts.

Trump in mid-September accused Democratic lawmakers who opposed the restrictions on the program of stalling the bill.

On the conference call, Peterson also promised more oversight in agriculture, but did not elaborate.

“I don’t think we’ve done enough oversight, in the department and other areas on agriculture controls. I’d expect us to do that,” he said.

Using their control of House committees, Democrats are expected to probe the Trump administration on a range of issues, ranging from Trump’s long-hidden tax returns to conflicts of interest from his business empire and allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

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