Brown: Farm Bill to pass Senate, but House vote unknown

STEUBENVILLE — The 2018 Farm Bill could pass the Senate by July 4, but what will happen in the House remains unknown.

That was the word Wednesday during a conference call with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who said the Senate Agriculture Committee passed the bill on a 20-1 vote, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying a full vote should be held before the holiday.

Brown said he couldn’t “predict what will happen in the House where their incompetence and extremism” defeated a Farm Bill in May, where Republicans had been pushing new work requirements for the food stamp program, which dwarfs the subsidies for agriculture in the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill generally is a five-year funding bill and includes items to support farmers and provide public assistance for food and conservation programs. The Senate version would run through 2023.

The current bill expires at the end of September, and Brown said, “There is no excuse for Congress not being able to get a bill to the president sometime in September. The current bill expires at the end of September and we’ve known that for 18 months. I don’t know if Paul Ryan and the Tea Party know how to do a job like this.”

Brown said changes to the dairy support program in the bill attempt to make it more effective for farmers, and provisions would continue to protect the western Lake Erie basin from damage from agricultural runoff.

The bill would provide permanent funding for local farmers’ markets, to help farmers sell their goods more easily in their local areas. Rural broadband also receives a boost, Brown said.

He said the commitment to Lake Erie is important because the Trump administration wants to pull funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He said he and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will continue to fight to keep that funding.

“Some of us are old enough to remember what Lake Erie looked like a generation ago,” Brown said, citing success through the efforts of the federal, state and local governments, health departments and sewer districts. He said the Farm Bill provisions provide incentives for local farmers to enroll in conservation programs that keep the Auglaize and Sandusky and Blanchard rivers clean, which keeps the Maumee River clean, and the Maumee feeds into Lake Erie’s shallow western basin.

Rural broadband provisions are important, especially for Southeastern Ohio, Brown said, where young people and entrepreneurs have a difficult time because of a lack of high speed Internet service. Brown said that continues to be a problem not only because of the region’s hilly terrain but also because there isn’t a large population that attracts broadband companies to install networks.