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Published September 21, 2012, 12:50 PM

Stabenow committed to farm bill

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Sept. 20 that she will “do everything possible” to get a new farm bill finished in the lame duck session, despite House leadership’s unwillingness to bring the bill to the House floor.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Sept. 20 that she will “do everything possible” to get a new farm bill finished in the lame duck session, despite House leadership’s unwillingness to bring the bill to the House floor.

Also on Sept. 20, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House would “deal with” the farm bill after the election, while House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., questioned what that means and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he would not support a Democratic discharge petition effort to bring up the bill.

Stabenow said she is “confident” Boehner will bring up the bill, but added, “we will hold him to that.”

The question, she is said, is whether the House speaker “will support his chairman,” Lucas, who has passed a bill through the House Agriculture Committee.

Boehner has said he does not think there are enough votes to pass the bill on the House floor because some members think there has been too much reform and others think there has been too little, but Stabenow said that if he approaches it in “a bipartisan way,” the votes will be there.

Stabenow also said that despite the differences between the House and Senate versions of the commodity title, “I believe we can come to the middle and get that resolved.”

But she also said that so far, there has been no signal from the House that there could be any conference work done during the recess until Nov. 13. She noted that she had hoped “pre-conference” work would be done in August, but that the House leadership did not approve that idea.

Asked by Agweek whether he fears that the lack of action will endanger the re-election chances of some of his Republican colleagues, as has been widely reported, Lucas said, “From midsummer everything becomes political anyway. I can’t answer specific questions.”

Peterson, who was standing next to Lucas, said to him and to the reporters, “Your answer is ‘I don’t know if it will hurt, but it sure won’t help.’”

Peterson also told reporters that he has organized a group of House members to poll other members before they leave town on how they would vote on the farm bill on the House floor, but that he has not decided whether he will release either the number of members who would vote for the bill or their names.

Peterson said that the tally would be taken by both Republicans and Democrats and was organized at a meeting he called Sept. 19 at which about 25 House members showed up. There were many Republicans at the meeting, Peterson said, adding that “Republicans are really motivated to get the bill passed.”

Peterson said he started the whip operation because he was annoyed that the Republican leadership never asked the full House membership how they would vote on the bill, but last week did ask them how they would vote on an extension.

The leadership has abandoned the extension effort, at least before the election, but there have been reports that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a leader of the Tea Party faction in the House, and former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., a critic of the sugar, dairy and ethanol programs, want an extension so that consideration of the bill will be forced to next year when budgetary pressures are likely to be greater than this year.

Meanwhile, five more House members have signed the discharge petition Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has filed that would force the House leadership to bring up the bill on the House floor if 218 members — a majority of the House — signs it. The additional five included two Republicans, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Tom Latham of Iowa, who is in a tight race against Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell.

The total number of House members to have signed the petition is 58, but two Republicans — Scott Tipton of Colorado and Renee Elmers of North Carolina — withdrew their signatures, leaving the total at 56, including 11 Republicans.

Old laws

The permanent agricultural law, which is based on acts passed in the 1930s and in 1949, will technically go into effect on Oct. 1, but Stabenow noted that no provisions of it would become important until January. Those old laws, Stabenow said, “would not work for today’s agriculture.”

Stabenow declined to comment on what would happen if the farm bill doesn’t come up until 2013, saying she is focused on getting a bill done this year and that she is “very concerned about the baseline” if it doesn’t.

Stabenow also said she discarded the idea of a stand-alone disaster bill because farm group leaders told they thought it would be better to pass a comprehensive farm bill rather than disaster legislation.

The Environmental Working Group recently said it would support disaster aid for livestock and dairy producers, but not for fruit growers, because they have crop insurance.

Stabenow refuted that statement, saying growers in only two counties in Michigan can get crop insurance. The EWG statement “doesn’t have any relationship to reality,” she said, adding that she would be happy to welcome EWG officials to Traverse City or the northern peninsula to see the situation there.

On politics, Stabenow said she cannot imagine that any senator would have any negative impact from voting for the bill, but that Republican House members may see some.

“Despite our best efforts to keep this out of the political season” by finishing the bill early, which gave the House “plenty of time to act in the summer,” she said, “the speaker and the Republican leadership decided not to.”

“They will be held accountable. I am sure this will be an issue for many people in the election,” Stabenow said.

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