WASHINGTON — A dispute over forestry management measures seems to have become the principal holdup to completing a compromise farm bill that may be submitted to both houses of Congress for approval and then sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.
Heretofore, it was the insistence of House Republicans on imposing more stringent work requirements on recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits that stood out as the most contentious disagreement to be resolved. But Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, indicated the House-Senate farm bill conference committee has reached an agreement on SNAP she said she could support.
“The big question right now is this debate on forestry,” Ms. Stabenow said. “Last-minute provisions can be the death of any complicated bill … If it were not for that, we’d be close to wrapping this thing up.”
There were a few additional issues to iron out, she acknowledged, including what should be the limits on federal farm program payments.
Indications were the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, who lead the farm bill conference committee, have referred the dispute on forestry management provisions as contained in the House farm bill to the leaders of the Senate and House — i.e. to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — for a decision on how to proceed.
The forestry provisions in the House farm bill emerged as a major issue in the wake of the horrific and fatal wildfires that raged across California in recent weeks. President Trump weighed in on Nov. 20, saying the farm bill should include the forestry management provisions in the House version.
Republican negotiators asserted the provisions would enable the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to more aggressively arrange for controlled burns and other forest thinning efforts while opponents said recently enacted authorities relating to forest management should be employed before new authorities are sought. Environmental groups said the provisions would exempt some forest projects from environmental analysis and loosen oversight of the Endangered Species Act.