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Heitkamp, Hoeven join farm bill conference committee

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., left, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., share a light moment during the Lignite Energy Council's recent annual meeting at the Bismarck Event Center in April. All three will be part of negotiations on the farm bill. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — All three members of North Dakota's congressional delegation will negotiate a new farm bill with Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Sen. John Hoeven announcing their conference committee appointments Wednesday, Aug. 1.

Heitkamp and Hoeven will be two of nine senators on the farm bill conference committee. The multi-year bill includes everything from nutrition assistance to crop insurance and commodity supports.

The current farm bill is set to expire at the end of September.

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is challenging Heitkamp this fall, was named as one of 47 House farm bill negotiators last month. Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz, both of Minnesota, joined him.

Roger Johnson, the former North Dakota agriculture commissioner who’s now president of the National Farmers Union, said he doesn’t remember North Dakota ever achieving the same level of representation during farm bill negotiations. But he noted both senators are members of that chamber’s ag committee and the House appointed many conferees.

“Still, (North Dakota) should be well represented — hopefully they all argue for the same things!” he said in an email.

Heitkamp's office said she'll have jurisdiction over “every piece” of the bill because she’s on the ag committee. Cramer was appointed through his membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and he previously said his jurisdiction would include renewable fuel standards and rural broadband.

A Heitkamp campaign spokeswoman previously called Cramer’s appointment “politics at its worst,” noting that he doesn’t sit on the ag committee and has been more defensive of President Donald Trump’s “reckless” trade policies.

But Heitkamp herself said Wednesday that the appointments were an “excellent thing” for North Dakota. On Twitter, Cramer likewise called it a “big victory” for the state.

In a statement, Heitkamp said completing the farm bill is her "top priority" and called the Senate's version of the legislation a “strong, bipartisan” bill. The House narrowly passed its version with new food stamp work requirements without any Democratic votes.

Heitkamp and Hoeven both said in interviews that the debate over food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, would be the biggest sticking point in the negotiations. Heitkamp suggested the House language would be dead on arrival in the Senate and noted there are already work requirements in the program.

Both Heitkamp and Hoeven were hopeful the bill can be completed before the end of September, although Hoeven said it could “drag out some” with the SNAP debate. And the House’s August recess could complicate the calendar.

“Right now our farmers are facing a lot of uncertainty with the trade issue and low ag prices and so we need to try to get this done as soon as we can,” Hoeven said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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