Biden invites lawmakers to White House to discuss farm bill amid looming debt limit crisis

The meeting comes as Biden is facing a debt limit standoff with Republicans, which is increasingly threatening to derail the upcoming farm bill reauthorization.

President Joe Biden speaks to the media.

President Joe Biden is wading into the high-stakes negotiations over the farm bill, amid growing concerns the debt limit stand-off could knock that must-pass piece of legislation off track.

Biden has invited a small, bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House Thursday to discuss the upcoming farm bill reauthorization, according to four people familiar with the plans who were granted anonymity to discuss internal conversations. Congress is aiming to write and pass what is expected to be a $1 trillion-plus bill, which will authorize U.S. food and agriculture spending for the next decade, by this fall. But even senior Senate Republicans are increasingly wary that the mounting debt crisis could derail the traditionally bipartisan farm bill.

The group of invitees include House Agriculture Committee Chair G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.) and John Boozman (Ark.), the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is a member of Democratic leadership, and Rep. David Scott (Ga.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is also expected to attend, according to the people.

Stabenow confirmed she was planning to attend the meeting with Biden, which she described as a “general overview” of the farm bill process.

“The President’s very interested in getting a bipartisan farm bill and just wants to have an opportunity to touch base,” Stabenow said.

The Thursday afternoon meeting, which the president is expected to attend, could be somewhat tense given Democrats’ strong objections to the House GOP’s push to restrict federal food aid and slash other spending as part of their proposal to raise the debt limit. Specifically, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s plan would expand work requirements for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the country’s leading anti-hunger program, which is part of the farm bill. A spokesperson for Thompson, the only invitee who has voted for the House GOP debt limit bill, said he plans to attend the White House meeting.

Stabenow said she didn’t know if Republicans’ SNAP proposal would come up during the meeting — but she acknowledged the potential fallout of a default crisis.

“I’m raising this all the time because it would be devastating to farmers in rural communities if there was a default,” Stabenow said. “So I don’t think that’s the sole reason for the meeting. But I do think that he’s certainly concerned,” she said of Biden.

The president met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and congressional leaders Tuesday about the debt limit, as the U.S. inches closer to the June 1 date the nation could default on its debt, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Biden and McCarthy both said they plan to meet again Friday. The Thursday farm bill meeting has been something of a moving target, as the White House and its Domestic Policy Council, which is taking the lead on farm bill issues, is eager to get more involved in the massive legislation that shapes food security and rural economies across the country. The White House also hopes to tout Biden’s accomplishments for rural voters as he gears up for a 2024 reelection bid.

Stabenow’s history with Biden goes back to their days as Senate colleagues and later when Biden was vice president. As Obama’s second in command, Biden on several occasions cut last-minute deals with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that hit agriculture spending and policy, leaving Stabenow, who chaired the Agriculture Committee, out of the negotiations. It’s something people close to the Michigan Democrat say she has not forgotten.

The other three lawmakers invited to the Thursday meeting have little to no relationship with the president, but White House officials hope to establish better lines of communication as the process of writing the farm bill on Capitol Hill switches into high gear.