After months of debate, lawmakers say they've reached a deal on the farm bill, which would fund crucial food assistance and agriculture programs.
"We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as [Congressional Budget Office] scores, but we still have more work to do," the chairmen and ranking members of Senate and House Agriculture Committees (known as the "Big Four") said in a statement on Thursday. "We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible."
Since the 2014 farm bill expired in October, Congress has been struggling to reconcile differences in the Senate farm bill and the more conservative House version, which proposes serious cuts to conservation programs and adds barriers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Negotiation over these issues has stalled in a partisan standoff; most recently, the Trump administration pushed to include controversial measures that would roll back environmental regulations to help fight fires—a stance that Democrats and environmental experts oppose.
Now, the negotiators are the closest they've been yet to full agreement. According to Politico, the bill is not expected to impose stricter work requirements for SNAP; conservation funding remains unclear; and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) says that provisions on forest management—including those favored by President Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke—would be part of "a very minimum bill." Senate leaders also said Wednesday they might be considering leaving the forestry issue in a separate bill, Politico reports.
If the negotiators don't finalize the bill by the end of the year, the responsibility will fall to the next Congress. That would start the process all over again, pushing the bill to a date that's "unprecedented in recent farm bill history," according to the industry site AgWeb.