Congress has reached a compromise deal on a new Farm Bill to set agriculture policy for five years, but it won't expand work requirements for food stamps, which had been a priority of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana and President Donald Trump.
The Senate passed the bill Tuesday on an 87-13 vote, although Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy was a no, criticizing the "missed opportunity to reform" the food stamp program. The House will likely vote Wednesday.
But Abraham, R-Alto, whose family farms in northeastern Louisiana, said the legislation "is a good bill that gives our farmers and ranchers the security they need.
Abraham is the state's only member of the House Agriculture Committee and was a member of the conference committee that crafted the final version.
"It preserves crop insurance and provides more flexibility for farmers moving forward," said Abraham, who announced last week he will run for governor in 2018.
But the bill doesn't expand work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Work requirements are technically in this bill and previous bills, but many states, including Louisiana, routinely waive them.
Abraham said the House was able to secure lesser adjustments to the work requirement provisions that will help reform the program. He said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will have more regulatory authority to clamp down on waivers.
"Hopefully these provisions will lead to a reduction in waivers because as it has been the work requirements didn't mean anything," he said.
Kennedy doesn't buy it.
“Our farmers are an integral part of our country’s history and economy, but unfortunately this bill has become about more than supporting our farmers,” Kennedy said. “Too much of this bill is devoted to irresponsible food stamp distribution that fails to help people realize the dignity of work. I could not support this bill because it does not contain stronger work requirements for food stamps. I am disappointed at this missed opportunity to reform the SNAP program, and I am more disappointed in the failure to negotiate a more fair and effective Farm Bill for our farmers.”
Last summer Kennedy voted for the Senate version of the Farm Bill that didn't expand work requirements but did include an amendment from Kennedy for an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy voted in favor of the bill, saying, "This legislation empowers Louisiana farmers and sugar producers to succeed.”
Farmers are less interested in the food stamp program than in the policies that provide a safety net for producers.
Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation President Ronnie Anderson is in Washington, where he said the American Farm Bureau Federation board of directors voted Tuesday to unanimously support the bill.
"It isn't perfect and it doesn't have everything we wanted but it seems to be the best we can get," said Anderson, one of 35 directors on the American Farm Bureau Federation board. "There are many improvements in the bill."
The Farm Bill is the road map for farmers and their lenders. Passage in the current Congress was considered critically important by producers.
"This clears up the uncertainty we would gave going into our next planting season, which is only a few months away," Anderson said.
Abraham said one of the most important improvements in the new Farm Bill is a provision to extend eligibility for crop subsidies and other programs to nephews, nieces and cousins of a farmer.
House Republicans like Abraham were willing to sign off on the compromise bill to avoid it being moved to the new Congress next month where Democrats will take over the majority.
"There's no way we could let Nancy Pelosi write the next Farm Bill," Abraham.
Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has been nominated by her party to become the next speaker of the House.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1