Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., doubled down Monday on her warning that GOP attempts to fund the farm bill through a reduction in projected spending on nutrition assistance would fracture the bipartisan, urban-rural coalition needed to pass the farm bill.

“If we abandon the coalition, you don't get a farm bill,” she said, speaking at the annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit.

Stabenow said there is broad agreement among committee leaders on eight of the 12 farm bill titles, but she has steadfastly opposed several GOP proposals to fund increases in commodity program reference prices and address other issues in the farm bill. Those proposals include imposing restrictions on future updates by USDA of the Thrifty Food Plan, an economic model used to estimate the cost of contemporary eating patterns and set benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Some Republicans would also like to remove the climate-related restrictions on Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding or even reallocate some of the money to other purposes. Stabenow has resisted either idea.

“I will not have as my legacy cutting food assistance for Americans … or taking away conservation money from farmers. If that’s the way you have to get a farm bill, then, you know, we’ll continue [the] 2018 [farm bill] for another year,” said Stabenow, who is not running for re-election this year. 

Last November, Congress passed a one-year extension of the 2018 farm bill. If no farm bill is passed this year, another extension will need to be enacted by the end of the year. 

Stabenow also said, “We need to be strengthening all parts of the farm bill, but what we have not done in the past is take from one title and give to another.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, denied that Republicans don’t want to pass legislation this year that could potentially help President Joe Biden’s re-election race.

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“Most people in the Senate, most people in the House, want to get a farm bill passed,” Boozman said at the Agri-Pulse summit, noting that heavily agricultural areas of the country are predominantly Republican.

Boozman could potentially become chairman of the committee in 2025, if Republicans win control of the Senate. But he said he doesn’t think it will necessarily be any easier to pass a farm bill in the next Congress.

“I believe that it'll be as easy to do this year as next year. So, who knows what the dynamics are going to look like then? But I do know how important this [farm bill] is, and I do know how important it is for rural America to give our farmers stability,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, also speaking at the summit, warned the crowd that public support for trade agreements needs to be rebuilt, if the United States is going to be able to negotiate new trade agreements to lower barriers to U.S. ag exports. 

"I suspect, because this is an ag meeting, that most of the people in this room think ag trade is great. But if you go out and talk to the folks out on the street, in any city or town, they're going to tell you that trade isn't necessarily a good deal for the United States," 

The Biden administration has been under pressure from farm groups to negotiate new trade deals, but Vilsack noted that Congress has yet to pass legislation renewing the president's fast-track negotiating authority, called trade promotion authority. Under TPA, Congress cannot amend a proposed trade deal, only vote it up or down. 

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