Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Mike Conaway has been tapped to take the lead in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, taking over for Congressman Devin Nunez, R- Calif., who has recused himself in light of ethics violation charges.
Chairman Conaway, R-Texas, announced the new role during his presentation to the Plains Cotton Growers annual meeting Friday in Lubbock, and assured the cotton industry that he would continue as Ag Committee Chairman and would have a farm bill done by fall of 2018.
“First, let’s address the elephant in the room,” Conaway said as a preface to his remarks. “I am not the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman Nunez is chairman of that committee; I am chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and I will shepherd the farm bill to completion by the fall of 2018.”
Conaway, who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the change will allow Congress to “reset the investigation and work in a bipartisan manner. We will follow all leads and get as much material declassified as we can. But I will not conduct an investigation in the media.
“And I don’t expect to shortchange your representation on the Agriculture Committee.”
Conaway conceded that producers, many of whom supported President Trump, have been disappointed in the President’s proposed budget that called for a 21 percent reduction for USDA. He also suggested that once Governor Sonny Perdue is confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, and gets undersecretaries in place, he will begin to offer guidance to the President and Congress about agriculture’s needs. He expects that confirmation to take place soon.
He says the budget will be a crucial issue in farm bill debates and adds that the committees will have less money to work with than in 2014.
He says two years of hearings and evaluation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shows that reform is needed, but vows not to do anything to the program that would add to the cost of food for the bottom rungs of the U.S. economic ladder. He said the top 20 percent of the economic ladder spends more on food than the bottom 20 percent makes. Higher food costs would affect the top 20 percent minimally, Conaway said, but would be devastating to the lower rungs.
He said reforming SNAP should consider options that remove barriers to work. In some cases, he said, entitlement program policy makes it difficult for recipients to exit the programs. “Getting a promotion or taking on more hours in some cases would mean losing more money from benefits than the increase in wages would cover,” he said. “We have to look at the policy; we have to get the policy right, and then see how much it costs.”
He said if splitting nutrition form the ag title seems to be the best way to get both passed in Congress, he will consider that option. He says he will not entertain proposals that would eliminate the farm bill.
COTTON IS A PRIORITY
Once again, Conaway vowed to get cotton back into Title 1 as a covered commodity. “It likely will not be as lint, but likely will be as cottonseed,” he added. He also did not rule out the possibility of having cotton covered before the next farm program is enacted.
Dairy and reworking the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program are also priorities, he said.
“Our goal is to provide a farm bill that continues to deliver the most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world,” he added. To accomplish that, he argues that the agriculture industry must be unified and that it also must work with those who support SNAP and then recruit consumer support. “Everyone who eats needs to support a good farm program,” he said.
“Keeping our good farmers producing the most abundant and most affordable food supply,” he said, benefits producers as well as consumers.
He said Ag Committees will begin holding listening sessions around the country this summer to find out what producers and others want in the next farm bill. “We want to hear from farmers—what works in this farm bill and what doesn’t. If you have ideas, get them to us. Nothing is on paper yet.”