President Trump signed into law Thursday an $867 billion farm bill that provides billions in aid to U.S. farmers while rejecting deep cuts to the federal food stamp programs sought by some House Republicans.
Earlier in the day, the Trump administration also announced it would unilaterally seek stricter work requirement rules for food stamp beneficiaries — changes that House Republicans wanted in the farm bill that were rejected by congressional lawmakers.
The farm bill was approved earlier this month by large majorities of Congress, clearing the Senate by an 87-to-13 margin and the House by a 369-to-47 margin.
The White House joined House conservatives in calling for reductions in food stamp benefits but never threatened to derail the package over the demand. Farmers have already suffered the consequences of the administration’s trade war, as China slapped retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports amid the broader trade spat between the countries.
“This gives a peace of mind to our producers here who have to make plans for 2019,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Fox Business Network on Thursday morning. “It was a good bipartisan vote in Congress — and while we didn’t get everything that we had hoped to get in the bill, it’s a very stable bill for agriculture and for the consumers, as well.”
Shortly before signing the measure, Trump tweeted a video of himself singing the “Green Acres” TV show theme with actress Megan Mullally at the Emmys. “Farm Bill signing in 15 minutes! #Emmys #TBT,” Trump tweeted, adding a video that showed him wearing blue overalls and holding a pitchfork.
On Thursday, the Agriculture Department also unveiled an overhaul of the waiver program that allows states to exempt beneficiaries from work requirements if they live in areas with particularly high unemployment. The proposed rule, which will enter a 60-day public comment period, would allow states to waive the requirement only in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent. Currently, states can waive the requirement areas with unemployment rates that are at least 20 percent greater than the national rate.
Roughly 755,000 people live in areas that stand to lose the waivers, according to USDA officials, who projected the program would save taxpayers $15 billion over 10 years.
A similar plan was proposed by House Agriculture Committee Chair K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) but later rejected during farm bill negotiations with the Senate. Congressional Democrats vowed to oppose the changes and said they would probably meet a legal challenge in court.
“This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan farm bill that the President is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich), ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement Thursday. “I expect the rule will face significant opposition and legal challenges.”
The farm bill also faced criticism, including from conservative Republicans, for enlarging federal farm subsidies. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), one of two farmers in the Senate and a member of the Agriculture Committee, voted against the package over its expansion of federal subsidies to more-distant relatives of farmers, such as cousins, nephews and nieces. The final draft of the legislation also rejected a number of bipartisan reforms aimed at curbing subsidies for large U.S. agricultural interests.
“I’m very disappointed the conferees decided to expand the loopholes on farm subsidies,” Grassley said. “I’ve been trying to make sure the people who get the subsidies are real farmers. … I’ve been trying for three years, and it gets worse and worse and worse.”