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Inside the GOP's IRA farm bill plans

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Feb 26, 2024
Illustration of a combine harvester, wheat and abstract shapes.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

House Ag Republicans seem to have settled on an IRA farm bill strategy: Rescind as much of it as they can.

Why it matters: They're committed to moving climate-specific money to broader conservation spending after pitching the idea in negotiations with Democrats over the past year.

  • Democrats, of course, call this a non-starter.
  • This fight couldn't come at a more precarious time. Congress is struggling to move past appropriations to the new farm bill, as the last iteration expires Sept. 30.
  • Speaker Mike Johnson had hoped to bring up the farm bill in December.

Driving the news: Ag Republicans are moving forward with taking all unspent IRA "climate-smart" money and "reinvesting" it into the broader conservation baseline in the bill, GOP aides told Axios last week.

  • This includes about $14.4 billion in IRA funds, according to slides from a GOP PowerPoint presentation shared with Axios.
  • They'd "reinvest" roughly $8 billion in funds to USDA conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that aren't solely climate-centric.
  • Then the "balance of rescinded [IRA] funds" would be used for other priorities like trade promotion and "the safety net," per the presentation.

Flashback: In December, Ag Chair Glenn Thompson said he wanted to move a new farm bill around this time.

What they're saying: One GOP aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the IRA's approach is too "top-down."

  • "[There's] frustration with the climate sideboards," the aide said. "The secret sauce, the main reason why the conservation programs are so successful, is that they're locally led. … You're taking that locally led opportunity away."

The other side: Democrats in both chambers have been trying to find a compromise; farm bills historically have been bipartisan.

  • But House Ag Ranking Member David Scott said in a recent op-ed that following the GOP approach on climate funding would be as likely as Republicans accepting the end of the Trump tax cuts.
  • A Dem committee spox said in a statement: "House Democrats have been quite clear when it comes to IRA conservation funds: it should be spent on climate-smart conservation, as intended."

Enviromental groups, meanwhile, are putting their focus on preserving the climate-focused funds.

  • "We really believe these climate-smart agriculture practices are helping farmers," said Andrew Lentz, EDF's director of federal affairs for agriculture policy.

What we're hearing: GOP Ag committee staff brought up this Debbie Stabenow quote about the IRA adding "some baseline to the farm bill."

  • Jael also heard lots of grousing about farmland being converted to solar energy generation.
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