WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2012- Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she would not support an extension of current farm bill policy during an address at the Farm Journal Forum on Thursday.

“We’re not going to do an extension, we’re not going to kick the can down the road,” she said. Her comments came shortly after House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla, discussed the farm bill process amidst the overall deficit reduction talks, noting that a “transition period” may be necessary, although not calling it an extension.

“There might be a transition,” Stabenow acknowledged, adding that USDA would need time to comply with new policy. “That’s very different, that’s not an extension.” She described a transition as a vehicle for implementation, not an extension of current policy. However, she emphasized that a “transition is not something we’re actively thinking about. Nobody is focused on writing transition language.” 

Stabenow noted differences between the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate on the commodity title of the farm bill, noting that she would be willing to accept a counter-cyclical option as a part of the revenue program the Senate passed in its legislation. She also noted a near-unanimous agreement that taxpayers should no longer fund direct payments.

Regarding the commodity title, she said “we know we have to come to the middle. In the end it’s got to not look like a five-headed cow, it’s got to actually work.”

Noting she is “very encouraged by the conversations” with Lucas, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kans., and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., she said “I know that we can come to an agreement that’s balanced and fair.”

“We all understand why, because the alternative is going back to the 1940s or allowing people that are not involved to make cuts that in all likelihood will not be the best for agriculture,” she said. “There is no responsible reason to support an extension, there’s no reason to not get this done.”

Stabenow noted she would like the House to take up a stand-alone five-year farm bill, but she would be “equally happy” for a farm bill agreement to be included in a broader deficit reduction plan.

Depending on what kind of agreement is reached to address the spending cuts and tax hikes set for year’s end, the so-called “fiscal cliff,” she said that the agriculture committees will be ready with options.

“We just need to be ready with the policy so we are there no matter which direction they take,” which could include a short-term down payment to avoid sequestration, a reconciliation package or a larger deal. 

When it comes to differences between each farm bill in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Stabenow said she would be willing to find more savings through eliminating inefficiencies and fraud, but not by reducing any food availability.


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