Reid, McConnell Key to Fate of Senate Farm Bill

June 14, 2012 02:06 AM
 

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Talks between Sens. Conrad and Chambliss important, but key is need for amendment accord


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


Four senators hold the key to the fate of the controversial Senate farm bill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Of the four senators, by far the keys are Reid and McConnell because they must come to some type of an agreement on the number and scope of amendments before substantial progress can be made toward reaching the farm bill end zone. Will that happen? Ask that question and you get all sorts of reactions from Washington experts who admit they are as befuddled as most others.

Reid has used the procedural tactic of "filling the tree" to cut off amendments in an attempt to manage the farm bill debate thus far. Reid has used the procedural move some 60 times, more than all his predecessors combined, according to statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). According to CRS, Republican Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas was the first to use the tactic in a partisan fight over a Reagan-era budget resolution. Dole used the ploy seven times in two different stints as majority leader; Democrat Robert Byrd employed it three times when he was majority leader; Democrat George Mitchell filled the tree three times; Republican Trent Lott used the tactic 10 times; Democrat Tom Daschle employed it once; and Republican Bill Frist filled the tree 12 times, according to CRS.

Reid blamed the amendment restrictions on broader procedural delays in getting the farm bill to the floor, saying that the need to file procedural motions to invoke cloture on motions to proceed to bills reduced the chamber’s time to consider amendments.

Sen. McConnell wants the farm bill debate to include votes on five anti-regulatory issues, but thus far Reid wants no part of bringing any of those issues to a vote.

Meanwhile, Sens. Conrad and Chambliss are attempting to broker a North-South divide in the current Senate farm bill language that many southern rice, peanut and cotton growers find wanting. Those discussions compare to the fluffy language in an opinion piece in Politico today written by Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and the panel's ranking member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) - link to commentary.

As for the potential farm bill timeline, a bipartisan agreement on how to proceed on the farm bill remains elusive. If Reid moves to cut off debate, enough GOP senators might vote down the farm bill on procedural grounds even though enough Republicans reportedly support the substance of the bill to get it through the Senate.

Congressional sources say Reid will likely give the process into next week before taking action other than steps taken this week to offer amendments he knows will be tabled (killed). If this strategy holds into early next week and there is still no amendment agreement, then he will, in essence, take steps to yank the measure from the floor. But he could always resurrect it for later consideration.

Also, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continues to push an amendment that would strip funds from Pakistan, saying he may block future unanimous-consent requests to proceed with the farm bill unless that non-germane amendment is considered.

Meanwhile, Conrad has a history of making deals across the political aisle – and as Budget Chairman, Conrad knows where some budget offsets can be garnered. Should he and Chambliss announce an agreement, a lot will depend on its details, its budget offsets, and whether or not that that could lead to enough Republicans voting to end debate on the farm bill even if Reid and McConnell do not reach an amendment accord. Most contacts signal Chambliss would not want to go against his GOP leadership. While McConnell personally opposes the farm bill, he has so far not whipped against it.


 

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


 


 

 

 

 

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