The four lead farm bill negotiators, meeting for the first time since some bickering erupted over the expiration of the 2014 law, declared that they are working together to reach an agreement by the end of the year.
In a show of unity, the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Agriculture committees emerged from the meeting together and posed arm in arm for the reporters who were waiting outside.
“I think we’re making progress,” said Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “We’re in this together to get this thing done.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” added House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who last Friday had accused the Senate negotiators of slowing down the talks. “Our staffs are meeting regularly, and that’s good.”
Roberts said the four all but closed out three of the 12 titles - trade, credit and energy. Energy was the toughest of the three, since the House-passed bill would eliminate that section of the bill.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., added an amendment to the Senate bill in committee that earmarked $464 million over 10 years to maintain funding for USDA energy programs at the levels mandated by the 2014 farm bill and to reimburse dairy farms for premiums they paid into the Margin Protection Program from 2015 through 2017. The money came out of subsidies for cotton textile mills.
Roberts said the negotiators would stay in touch by phone and have authorized staff to finish closing out additional titles of the bill.
Roberts offered no details about where the negotiations stood on other issues under negotiation, including the House bill’s expanded work rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
He said he and Conaway were working on a compromise to their differences over the commodity title. The House bill would eliminate payments to farmers with base acres that had not been planted to a commodity crop for the past 10 years. That would save $900 million to cover the cost of increasing yield averages for farmers who experienced 20 consecutive weeks of drought, a provision that would primarily benefit farmers in southern Plains states.
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The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said she is "confident we can work together and get this done, as soon as possible, before the end of the year.”
Her House counterpart, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, added just one word, “Amen.”
The 2014 farm bill expired on Sunday, but lawmakers don’t plan to consider an extension of that law unless the negotiators are unable to reach an agreement that can be considered by Congress before January. The House is out of session until after the Nov. 6 congressional elections.
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