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September 26, 2013

Article from "Politico" - Farm Bill Advances

Farm Bill advances in House

By DAVID ROGERS | 9/26/13 7:17 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 running.

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, ‘Is 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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