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Senate Ag panel chair says nutrition programs/SNAP can continue without farm bill; will not walk away from dairy supply management.
While informal discussions are underway between the House and Senate on how to address differences between the two farm bills each chamber has passed, the House needs to send their version of the farm bill to the Senate so that the formal conference process can start, Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said today.
Stabenow expressed shock that the House did not sent the farm-policy only farm bill to the Senate to get that conference process moving, something she said needs to happen quickly as she detailed there are only roughly 24 legislative days between now and Sept. 30 when portions of the extended 2008 Farm Bill begin to expire.
"We can't go to conference unless we have something," Stabenow said. "We can begin discussions and we are informally talking, but we can't go to conference without something" from the House.
Stabenow and others have been critical of the farm-policy only bill approved by the House since it has no nutrition title. But she also admitted that the lack of a nutrition title did not mean nutrition programs would stop as nutrition policy is written in the farm bill with funding done through the appropriations process. "It is conceivable to continue the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) through the appropriations process," she said. But SNAP is "more vulnerable to continual fights over nutrition without the five-year policy put in place. It's not that if we don't do an extension or a farm bill, all funding stops. The appropriators still make the decision."
Further, when asked if the House were to approve something along the lines of what is referred to as the Ryan budget plan on nutrition (around $130 billion in nutrition cuts), Stabenow said, "that would face bipartisan opposition in the Senate" and President Obama would not sign the bill.
As for the topic of permanent law, Stabenow noted her opposition to the House bill which would strike the 1938 and 1949 Acts as permanent farm law and replace them with the commodity title of the new farm bill. "This is a very serious issue," Stabenow observed, noting that some farm groups are ranking that high on their agenda.
"First thing we need to know is why would it be good for agriculture to take the pressure off to get a new bill," Stabenow asked, "and then determine what impacts there are on other parts. There is a tremendous impact on other parts of the farm bill." By shifting away from the current permanent law provisions, she said, the concern is that "would take away pressure to make sure we have a comprehensive farm bill."
She also noted the issues of conservation relative to the permanent law situation without explaining what impact there is since there are no conservation provisions in permanent law.
On dairy, even though the House voted down the supply management component that is in the Senate version, Stabenow pledged those provisions "are strongly supported by the Senate. That's one of the areas we have to figure out. But we're not going to walk away from dairy provisions."
Comments: Stabenow is correct in her admission that nutrition programs would continue without having the title in the farm bill. But she did not acknowledge on the issue of permanent law, that conservation and some other programs are not covered by permanent law as it currently stands. Further, Stabenow noted that informal discussions are already underway between the House and Senate, something which observers note will certainly speed the process along once the conference officially begins.
Stabenow and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and others who will try to goad the House GOP leaders into announcing conferees soon know full well that if conferees are announced too soon (way before a successful conclusion of a conference), under House rules members can offer specific instructions to the conference, and that is something GOP leaders do not want to occur in an already cumbersome and partisan process.