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Published November 21, 2013, 09:33 AM

Meeting today will discuss framework for farm bill agreement

The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees are scheduled to meet today on the farm bill and possibly announce a comprehensive framework agreement before both chambers leave for a Thanksgiving break.

By: Jerry Hagstrom,

WASHINGTON — The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees are scheduled to meet today on the farm bill and possibly announce a comprehensive framework agreement before both chambers leave for a Thanksgiving break.

The big four — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., met Wednesday evening for 90 minutes and said they had made progress, but would meet again today.

“Is there white smoke?” Stabenow joked as she saw reporters in the hallway outside the Longworth House Office Building conference room where they met.

“We’re making progress and we’ll let you know more tomorrow,” Stabenow said. “We’re working in good faith. We want to have everything agreed to this week.”

Peterson agreed with Stabenow’s statements, smiled, and said that at some point there will be “one big kumbayah.”

Cochran did not speak to reporters as he left.

Lucas, who is chairing the conference, emerged last and sounded a little less confident than the Democrats.

Lucas said that “in a few areas” they had “advanced the discussion.” But in a sign of the seriousness of the meeting, Lucas and his staff had left the room at one point for a few minutes to discuss a point and returned quickly.

Asked whether there would be an agreement before week’s end, Lucas said, “Tomorrow we will try everything we can.”

Asked whether the principals would stay behind after the House and Senate leave Thursday for the Thanksgiving break, Lucas said, “We will see tomorrow about staying later.”

None of the four were willing to discuss details, an agreement that Lucas attributed to the group being “four very grizzled calloused veterans.”

Asked if he would confirm Stabenow’s statement that they had discussed nutrition, Lucas said, “Everybody needs nutrition.”

Earlier, when asked about a proposal by corn, soy and canola farmers to use a rolling average of recent years’ production as a base for paying farm program payments rather than farmers’ historic base or the current year’s planted acres, Lucas pointed out that commodity groups and members of Congress make proposals from their own perspectives.

“You have to understand every commodity group has the very best economist to find the advantage for their commodity,” Lucas said, noting that if base acres are used, as the Senate has proposed, then in times of low prices people who are not currently farming would get payments, a policy that has been criticized.

Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, a House Agriculture subcommittee chairman, and conferee, told reporters Wednesday that all policy proposals have to be considered together.

“You can’t make any decision in a vacuum,” Conaway said.

Conaway also said he is opposed to applying payment limits to crop insurance, in part because tax reform could change farmers’ adjusted gross income depending on what tax policies are allowed.

On the issue of who is “actively engaged” in farming, Conaway said he believes grandparents should be considered “actively engaged” because they “bring wisdom to the table.”

The big obstacle in the farm bill, Conaway said, is nutrition, saying he thinks the discussion should shift from the size of the cut to the food stamp program to the policies behind it. Once the bill passes, Conaway said, no one will ever check whether a cut of a certain numerical size is achieved.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, ranking member on the subcommittee in charge of nutrition, said today that there have not been any meetings on nutrition “that I have been included in or aware of.”

Lucas said, however, that he has had a number of conversations with Fudge. “I don’t know that she has missed out on anything,” he said.

Conaway also said that the way House farm bill conferees other than the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees are learning about what’s is going on in the conference is through their staff members who sit in “working groups” on various issues and through personal conversations with Lucas.

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