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Echoing sentiments of House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said efforts are continuing on trying to get the farm bill approved by the House Ag panel onto the House floor before lawmakers depart for the November elections.
"We’ve got a farm bill before us that passed the committee. We’re trying to get it passed [in] the House," McCarthy said Monday. But he did not indicate any timeline for such an effort or how it could play out with so few legislative days remaining.
The post-election, lame-duck session of Congress is one possibility. Another option that could be at play since the 2008 Farm Bill expires at the end of the month is to include a short-term extension of the bill in a continuing budget resolution to keep the government operating.
But a major sticking point slowing progress on the agriculture measure has been a debate regarding cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which accounts for more than 75 percent of the overall farm bill funding.
On the Senate side, Ag panel ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said time has essentially run out to approve a new bill. "If in fact it’s not possible for a farm bill, which I think we’ve run out of time [for], we need an extension," Roberts said. While still preferring completion of a full five-year bill, Roberts said that if that can’t be done one has to "accept reality, you don’t have to like it, but you have to accept it." And Roberts is even questioning whether or not there will be a lame-duck session.
Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) again called on the House to approve the version of the bill approved by the House Ag Committee earlier this summer. While House Republican leaders haven’t scheduled floor time for the version of the bill approved by the House Ag Committee, Sen. Stabenow insisted in a conference with reporters today that the "votes are there" for the measure in that chamber. Stabenow said that view was garnered via discussions with House members. "The House needs to step up, take two or three days and get this done," she said.
And even if the House were to approve their version of the bill at the end of September as the last thing they do before leaving, Stabenow said that based on the discussions held during the August recess, it would not take much time to complete the bill.
Conference action could take place in October, Stabenow explained, with a vote right after the election. "The House leadership needs to support this and take action to get it done." Based on those August discussions, Stabenow said the major difference points are in the commodity and nutrition titles, but the remaining portions of the bills are very comparable between the two versions.
Stabenow did not want to discuss an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill and played up the reversion to permanent law as another reason to get the package completed. "This is not about an extension," she stated. "We need to pass a farm bill."
Further, she reiterated her opposition to the House-passed disaster aid package, urging it be accomplished in the context of an overall farm bill.