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Major differences ahead in Senate and House farm bill versions
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The following is an update on the omnibus farm bill developments:
Timeline: The Senate Ag Committee will hold two days of markup sessions next week, beginning April 25. While some southern Republicans on the panel may vote no for the Senate farm bill version if it doesn't include an increase in target prices, the measure is expected to clear the panel – even though it will cut an estimated $23 billion over ten years, a lot of agriculture-related funding will still pour out and if there is anything this Congress likes, it is spending money. Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said she expects to meet with panel members today (April 18) and to release legislation to them a day or two later. Most sections of the bill have been completed by staff, but some issues — including crop insurance for specialty crops and a safety net for cotton growers — remain to be worked out, she said.
The House Ag Committee announced more farm bill hearings, this time at the subcommittee level.
House Ag panel vote today on cutting $33.2 billion from food stamp program means little if anything for the coming farm bill debate. A round of comments from Democratic members against the cuts – which will not become law because the Senate will not even vote on a budget resolution/reconciliation this year, not even at the Budget Committee level. So today's Ag panel vote is largely political. It's going nowhere.
However, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) called the reconciliation process "an exercise" in which his committee must demonstrate it can find substantial savings in existing spending. Food stamps/SNAP, which costs more than $75 billion a year and accounts for around 77 percent of USDA spending, will be the focus of the reconciliation bill. "It is not the farm bill," Lucas said. "A regular farm bill will entail savings, cuts, however you want to define it, in all areas of the farm bill." Lucas said "everything will see reductions" this time around, especially as the shift is made away from direct payments. "If you think I'm going to consume a lot of Maalox before this process is over, absolutely," he said. "I have to work within the environment that I'm given."
Added Lucas, "We will work in a bipartisan fashion to try and to get us a farm bill done this year. It is no small challenge."
However, Lucas must first get a commitment from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has told some groups and others that he will not bring the farm bill to the floor before November elections because he doesn't want GOP members fighting each other. The Senate, however, may get a chance to vote on its omnibus farm bill before elections. Stabenow aid that although there has not been a time set to debate the farm bill on the Senate floor, it is crucial that her committee pass a bipartisan bill that will "send a signal" to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) that it can be approved.
Markup sessions set for April 25, 26 in Senate Ag Committee. As widely expected, next week will bring two days of markup discussion on the Senate version of the farm bill, with the language appearing as early as Friday, but the Senate has been known to delay issuing language of major bills.