House committee leaders optimistic conference, negotiations can get farm bill done

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2013 - The top leaders of the House Agriculture Committee said late Wednesday night that next week's first public meeting of farm bill conferees and constant negotiations throughout could pave the way for completion of a long-term bill by the end of the year.

The conference, to resolve differences between the House package and the Senate bill, is scheduled to begin Oct. 30. During that public meeting, each of the more than 40 conferees is likely to offer an opening statement and set their priorities.

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“I envision the first opening conference as a chance to give everyone an opportunity to offer their opinions and observations,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said shortly after a floor vote Wednesday.

Lucas said if significant progress is made during the next couple of weeks between conferees, he would not see a “big hurry for another conference.”

Lucas said many of the detailed differences between the House and Senate bills include “mundane and technical” issues that even his own members may not want to engage.

“I don't know if there would be disappointment if we're making progress,” Lucas said, in reference to not holding additional conference meetings.

Still, the largest difference is the House proposed cut of nearly $40 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Senate's proposed cut to the nutrition title of $4 billion. Of course, commodity and dairy policy disputes continue to cause problems.

“The beautiful part about nutrition, unlike the commodity title and dairy language, I think we all now agree on what the various reforms would do and what savings would be generated, but we need consensus about how many reforms there are going to be,” Lucas said. “I'd say nutrition is probably not one of those things that get solved at the front, but at the end.”

Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., agreed that the nutrition battle will come at the end of negotiations.

“We're making some progress, trading some things,” Peterson said. “But I'm worried we're running out of time.”

Peterson also suggested that next week's conference may be the only public meeting held on the farm bill. On possible amendments offered in conference which would not occur in the first meeting, Peterson said, “If there ever is another [conference meeting].”

Lucas said he remains optimistic a long-term farm bill will be approved this year.

“Absolutely, if there's one of many, many things we agree on it is getting farm bill calendar year 2013 signed into law,” Lucas said.

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