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Published January 14, 2013, 11:09 AM

Moving ahead

Stabenow says she is ready to proceed with a farm bill, without action from the House Agriculture Committee.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she will proceed with a new farm bill and not wait for the House Agriculture Committee to act first.

Lobbyists have speculated that Stabenow might feel so burned by the House leadership’s unwillingness to take up the farm bill last year that she would insist that the House act first, but she said in an interview for C-SPAN on Jan. 6 that rural America needs leadership and that she intends to provide it.

“We’re moving ahead. We’re not going to wait for the House,” Stabenow told Agweek after taping of the C-SPAN segment.

She added that, while she has talked about holding a markup in late February, she is not sure she can follow that schedule because Congress will be dealing with the sequester and the debt-ceiling legislation and will take a break for Presidents’ Day. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who also had said he might hold a markup in late February, has said in recent days that he may have to delay it.

But Stabenow also said that she supports House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in his decision not to participate in a markup until House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., agree to bring the bill up on the House floor. Stabenow said farmers and other rural Americans need to put pressure on House Republicans to finalize the farm bill.

Stabenow said she looks forward to working with Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who asserted his seniority to become the ranking member over Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who has held that position.

Compromise

The farm bill the Senate passed last year was unacceptable to rice and peanut growers, and Cochran is expected to insist on provisions more beneficial to southern farmers. Stabenow had always said there would have to be compromise with southerners in the conference report and said she did not think the shift from Roberts to Cochran would affect “the final outcome” of the bill.

Stabenow expressed outrage that the farm bill extension added to the fiscal cliff bill at the insistence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., included another round of the $4.9 billion direct payments program, while not providing disaster aid to livestock and fruit producers.

But even though the Senate-passed bill and the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill eliminated the direct payments program, Stabenow said she expects another battle this year over whether those payments — which go to crop farmers whether prices are high or low — should be continued.

The failed attempts to tie the farm bill to the deficit reduction bill in December 2011 and the fiscal cliff bill in December 2012 have made her wary of tying the farm bill to other legislation a third time, Stabenow said. But she added that action on the farm bill should proceed so any budget savings within that bill can be used for agriculture and nutrition programs.

Stabenow said she continues to be willing to cut the food stamp program to reduce fraud and abuse and to achieve efficiencies, but that she is unwilling to cut benefit levels.

Noting that the budget for food stamps goes up and down with the economy, Stabenow pointed out that when the Congressional Budget Office issues a new budget baseline in March, spending on nutrition programs is likely to go down, while the budgetary authority for crop insurance will go up.

“For families, this is their crop insurance,” Stabenow said.

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