Stabenow continues march to farm bill conference

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 17, 2013 - The process of moving a five-year farm bill into conference between Senate and House negotiators continued today with Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., reaching out to senators for their concerns.

“We're trying to make sure there aren't any objections to our unanimous consent request,” Stabenow said Wednesday after a committee hearing. “We're trying to work things out.”

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Getting a UC approved would make the process of getting to conference much easier and committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., noted it would be less risky. Otherwise, Senate leadership may have to pursue a path of 60-vote thresholds to be able to seat conferees.

The Senate needs to send its farm bill (S. 954) to the House and request a conference committee. After that, with a UC agreement, Stabenow and Cochran could name Senate conferees.    

Also after the hearing, Cochran said he has been conferring with committee members, but does not yet have a timetable for when a conference could begin. Stabenow has said she wants the conference to begin before the August recess.

“I don't have a specific goal in mind, but it would be helpful, the sooner we can get something out there would help the producers to know what the prices are more likely to be,” Cochran said.

If lawmakers are able to get to conference, they will have to resolve several differences between the Senate and House bills. The House bill would remove the nutrition title, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), from the agricultural policy language.

During a radio interview Wednesday in Oklahoma, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he has promised lawmakers that the committee would put together a separate food stamp bill.

“But the liberals don't like that at all because they don't want to discuss those issues by themselves,” Lucas said. “Liberals don't want any changes, any reform, any cuts. What do I do to persuade 218 of my colleagues to pass a standalone bill? I'm going to try…I gave my word.”

Lucas noted that if Congress eventually approves a farm bill without a nutrition title that “food stamps won't go away.” He said SNAP benefits are an “appropriated mandatory entitlement.”

Lucas floated the concept that Senate could take up the “farm bill-only bill.”

However, Cochran quashed that idea.

“The House bill doesn't have a lot of things the Senate bill has so we're going to take the Senate bill reported out of committee,” Cochran said.

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