Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said she was "very encouraged" by recent Ag Committee consultations on working on farm bill differences between the House and Senate, but in a speech before the Farm Journal Forum, cosponsored by Informa Economics, and in comments to reporters afterward, she made clear she "and the American public and the president" are against direct paymehnts for 2013 crops.
"I want to stress: I will not propose or support an extension of the (current) farm bill," she said, saying that any extension would be like "negotiating a farm bill." She further noted that funding for 37 farm programs have expired and a new farm bill can take care of that and other must-have program details. Stabenow noted that she recently saw the new movie, "Lincoln," and said she couldn't help but think of the current farm bill process while watching the movie. "During the time of the Civil War, Lincoln helped push through the Land Grant College Act, the Homestead Act" and other visionary programs, "so we can certainly get through a new farm bill!" And her position against any extension of the 2008 Farm Bill came through again when she said, "Lincoln didn't propose a short-term Land Grant College Act; he didn't push a one-year Homestead Act."
Asked again whether there might be a need for a transition program as House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) suggested in morning comments, Stabenow said, "Depends on what that is...."
Like Lucas' remarks earlier today, Stabenow said the end zone for a new farm bill can take several paths, but she spent the most time discussing how a farm bill could be part of an end-of-year deficit reduction plan.
Asked whether or not there would be a producer choice in the new farm bill relative to either revenue assurance or target prices, Stabenow said there is a "difference in philosophy on how some of view what is best" regarding farm policy. However, she said, "both sides must have to come to the middle" and give in ongoing negotiations. She noted "both sides are making a strong case" for their safety net programs, "and there are honest differences, but we each have to give a little to get it done."
Stabenow said both revenue assurance and target prices have strong supporters, but compromise has to take place. However, she cautioned, the final product "must not look like a five-headed cow, with farmers asking what we were smoking."
Asked about the future of estate taxes, Stabenow said, "We have to act and we will" because there is "no way" the estate tax exemption per individual should go down to only $1 million -- which it would in 2013 without a new agreement. She said estate taxes will be part of the larger discussion of the deficit reduction plan. "We're either going to keep the current $5.1 million exemption, or go back to what was in place in 2009, with a $3.5 million exemption per person," Stabenow said.
Calling any move to permanent legislation "irresponsible," Stabenow said any such development could have baseline implications..."then everything goes out of whack at that point."
Regarding the impact of no new farm bill on conservation programs, Stabenow said the conservation titles in the Senate and House farm bills are very similar, but if no farm bill is in place, signups for current programs would be impacted and "that situation will only get worse."
Coming to the conference direct from the White House, Stabenow revealed it was a regularly scheduled meeting on the President's Export Council, "but I brought up the farm bill," she said, adding that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also attended the meeting.
As for getting a new farm bill, Stabenow said, "It takes political will – if you want to get it, we can do it. "