WASHIINGTON, September 20, 2012- Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., pledged to do “everything possible” to finish a five-year farm bill before next year. The Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said in a teleconference Thursday that if the House votes on the bill in the lame duck session, she would do anything in her power to conference the House and Senate farm bills in the weeks after the presidential election.
The Senate passed its farm bill in June, while House leadership has yet to schedule the House Agriculture Committee’s bill for a floor vote.
“I really am shocked that there hasn’t been action this month,” she said of the House. “I’m absolutely committed to doing everything humanly possible to complete the farm bill in November or December.”
A discharge petition to force House leaders to bring the bill to the floor for a vote is signed by 64 members so far, well below the 218 signatures needed for it to be implemented. The Hill reported Thursday that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the farm bill will be dealt with after the election, when members return in November.
“I know that the votes are there to get this done and I’m confident we can resolve any concerns in conference committee,” she said, noting that Boehner pledged the bill would be brought up for a vote in the lame duck session and “we will hold him to that.”
“If the Speaker is comfortable moving forward and getting bipartisan votes, the votes are there,” she added. House leadership reasoned that they did not schedule the legislation for the floor because the chamber lacked the votes to pass it. Conservative Republicans want the deeper nutrition budget reductions agreed to in their 2013 fiscal budget plan, while liberal Democrats dislike any of the $16 billion in reductions made to food stamps and nutrition programs in the House Agriculture Committee bill.
“We know that the Republican caucus is split. Frankly, the Democratic caucus is split, but there are enough votes if you bring this up and allow bipartisan votes to occur,” Stabenow insisted.
In her commitment to seeing a farm bill through Congress before the impact of the current bill’s Sept. 30 expiration hits producers next year, Stabenow insisted that an extension of current law is not a viable option.
“I’m not interested in an extension, I’m interested in getting a farm bill done,” she said, noting that agricultural groups are united in wanting a comprehensive bill. “We would move quickly, as would the House, if we had to in 2013, but there’s no excuse not to get this done in the lame duck. We need to get the farm bill done now.”
She also explained that concerns from producer organizations about the livestock disaster package passed in the House last month convinced her to focus on the five-year bill alone.
“At this point in time I’m not looking at doing anything but getting a comprehensive farm bill done with comprehensive disaster assistance,” she said. “It’s a plan A: get the farm bill done. And we’re going to stay focused on that.”
She cited several producer groups that preferred a comprehensive bill with disaster aid funding included, rather than a stand-alone disaster package with pay cuts from conservation programs.
“And we heard strongly from dairy, that it would be disaster waiting to happen,” she said. “I was convinced that the best strategy would be to pay for this all together.”
Stabenow, who held the teleconference before Congress members return to their districts for October, emphasized that after the November election the farm bill will be her “full focus and priority.”
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