Do we have a deal? Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts suggests farm bill compromise is imminent

Pat Roberts isn’t ready to celebrate a deal on the farm bill, but he’s getting closer.

Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that he and the other three principal negotiators on the legislation have reached a tentative agreement on the bill and are now waiting on analysis from the Congressional Budget Office for a final bill.

“We have an agreement on the outstanding issues… But until you get that language on the bill and you know where we are with the scoring it’s premature to say that we have a complete agreement,” Roberts told reporters Wednesday.

The tentative deal comes almost two months after Congress missed a Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill, which will reauthorize the nation’s nearly $900 billion food and agriculture programs for five years.

Congress needs to pass a bill before the end of the year to ensure crop insurance and other agriculture programs continue to operate. The Kansas Farm Bureau has been watching negotiations closely.

“If this carries over into January, a lot of our members will be hit,” said Ryan Flickner, senior director of public policy at the Kansas Farm Bureau.

As he walked through halls of the Capitol, Roberts took a card with a list of talking points out of his suit coat, held it up for reporters and recited one of the lines: “Time is of the essence. We’re getting close to an agreement on the outstanding issues.”

Roberts would not discuss the details of the tentative agreement, but said that it included a compromise over proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

House Republicans have been pushing for new work requirements for adult beneficiaries of the program, but they have limited leverage in the final weeks of the congressional calendar after losing their majority in this month’s election.

The Kansas senator was also vague about how a dispute over wildfires would be resolved in the final bill. President Donald Trump’s administration has been advocating for legislation to ease environmental restrictions on forest thinning, which Democratic lawmakers adamantly oppose.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the House Agriculture chair, confirmed late Wednesday that a compromise has been reached on the overall bill.

“I am excited about the progress that has been made. We’ve reached an agreement in principle, but we’ve got more work to do. I’m committed to delivering this important win to rural America,” Conaway said in a statement.