Sen. Stabenow Still Optimistic Agreement Can be Found on Farm Bill Amendments

June 13, 2012 06:11 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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

Ag panel chair confirms Conrad/Chambliss work | Peanut and rice issues may await farm bill conference | 'Not surprised' at issues on amendments, but still claims broad support for bill

Negotiations continue between Senate Democratic and Republican leaders on the number and scope of amendments that the chamber will take up relative to the farm bill, and Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said this morning she is still optimistic a deal can be reached.

Leaders from the two parties are "in the process of negotiating a universal agreement," Stabenow told reporters. "I am confident we can get this done." However, she cautioned that those who "oppose reform will drag their feet. Those who have non-germane amendments… they will look for an opportunity to bring those issues forward. We are just getting started here and we are negotiating and moving forward."

Stabenow added that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "wants to light some fires" to make sure things move forward on the bill.

Despite expressed continued optimism about getting an agreement on amendments and getting the bill done, Stabenow would not predict when that might happen.

She also confirmed what I first reported Tuesday that Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are working on a package for the bill to address issues of concern to them. "I have tremendous confidence in Mr. Conrad and Mr. Chambliss," Stabenow said. "I told them it was important to keep talking and looking at options and getting scores on those options. We don't have anything final and specific from them." Once that happens, she added, "and if they get some specific scores that fits and fits within the context of what're trying to do, we'll sit down and talk with them." However, she stressed she had not seen anything as of yet from the two lawmakers.

She labeled the role Conrad is playing as being one that is "very important and constructive."

Chambliss has been vocal about the lack of support in the bill for southern rice and peanut growers, something which Stabenow said also is a matter of discussion. "We made significant moves on reference prices within our new risk management program (Ag Risk Coverage)," Stabenow said, "and I am confident we will come to the middle on this. The question is what can be done in the Senate or in conference (with the House) and we talk daily. We know that crop insurance at this point and time is not effective for them."

However, Stabenow again insisted that the matter would be resolved - "whether in the Senate on in conference."

Stabenow opened her call by speaking glowingly of the bipartisan support for the bill, noting the 90 votes in favor of cloture on the bill and noted there had been "good movement" overnight and this morning relative to the process of putting together a package of amendments to the bill. She also made clear she would like to keep the amendments focused squarely on the farm bill itself and not delve into areas that aren't under the jurisdiction of the Ag panel or are covered under the farm bill.

Stabenow also reiterated that to not clear a bill "would be a very sad day," as it would mean "we reverted back to the policies of the 1940s and extended the status quo. We would be extending subsidies that we all agree should be eliminated and would go back to paying farmers no matter what they plant."

Comments: Stabenow continues to talk about the bipartisan support for the bill, noting the 90 votes for cloture. But it is clear that not all of those lawmakers voting for cloture support the bill. And the issue of rice and peanuts still looms large as those interests were assured in the Senate Ag Committee's markup session that their concerns would be handled down the road. Stabenow's assurances may not give southern rice and peanut lawmakers much hope for the conference process to address those issues if they can't be tackled before the bill leaves the Senate.

Also, the key discussions at this point seem to involve two fronts - the amendments that will be allowed and the Conrad/Chambliss discussions. It would appear those discussions will be key on whether this bill moves forward or not.

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


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