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Farm Bill Advances

By: David Rogers
September 26, 2013 07:17 PM EDT

House Republicans took the first steps late Thursday toward a formal Farm
Bill conference with the Senate, as the Rules Committee cleared the way
the way for a floor vote Friday that would marry up the separate titles
approved in July and then last week.

The provisions are part of a larger “martial law” rule approved 9-3 by
the Rules panel and empowering the GOP leadership to move quickly over
the weekend on debt and funding bills prior to the fiscal year ending
Monday night.

In this context, the farm language can seem a bit player in the furor
over a threatened government shutdown and potential default. But it is a
critical first step that Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas
(R-Okla.) has been waiting for anxiously.

The goal is to restore a more comprehensive package including commodity,
conservation, crop insurance and nutrition titles as one. This will then
be sent to the Senate as a single amendment and sets the stage for the
leadership to appoint conferees.

The action makes good on promises by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to
move quickly once Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had passed his food
stamp cuts and new nutrition title last week. “The sooner the better,”
Boehner said then. “As soon as we can.”

But it has taken a torturously long time to reach this stage. And over
the summer, ASAP promises from the GOP leadership often translated to
“poor saps” for farm state lawmakers impatient to get on with the process.

Even now Boehner has chosen such a convoluted approach that some fear it
will take several weeks more before a farm bill conference can be up and

There’s no chance of beginning before the current farm law ‹ a one-year
extension of the five-year program that already expired in 2012 ‹ runs
out Monday. And while the Senate has already appointed its conferees, it
must repeat that process now ‹ exposing Senate Agriculture Committee
Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to more delays.

So-called “preconference” talks among House and Senate staff are underway
on some titles of the bill such as conservation, rural development and
research. But the differences are so great on the pivotal commodity and
nutrition sections that it will take getting the members together in one
room to hammer out a real framework.

Impatient with the pace, Lucas is reaching out to Stabenow. But given the
repeated House holdups, the Oklahoma Republican has had to battle a level
of skepticism in the Senate over where the House is going on a farm bill.

“Nothing will happen until we get in conference,” said Minnesota Rep,
Collin Peterson‹ the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture committee
and the panel’s chairman when the last farm bill was enacted in 2008. “I
don’t know if we can get anywhere until that is done.”

The frustration was reflected in a floor speech Thursday by Peterson’s
younger colleague, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), also a member of the
Agriculture Committee.

“The one thing I hear from my constituents when I talk to them out in
southern Minnesota is, ŒIs it so much to ask you folks just to do your
job?’” Walz said. “ As the drama swirls and the brinkmanship goes, and
it’s déjà vu all over again, certain things shouldn’t be that difficult.

“They’ve asked us to pass a Farm Bill. Four months ago, the Senate did
it. Four months ago, the House Ag Committee did it. That wasn’t good
enough. We came to this floor, we created drama, we tried to make being
hungry a sin ¬ and now you’ve got a monstrosity.

“Well you know what? The constitution makes it very clear: bring the two
together, conference the bill, and pass something that’s good for America.

“I get it. You don’t like the Senate bill. I get it. Senate doesn’t like
this bill. But you know what? Let’s get together and get something we
both equally dislike but at least it serves the people and moves
something forward.”

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