Farm Bill War Continues

DC Dialogue

Legislative days slip away as Senate waits for House to send over its farm-only farm bill to begin conferencing differences.

Published on: July 15, 2013

The commanding officers in the House and Senate don't seem to be on the same page in conquering the passage of a farm bill before the current extension expires at the end of September.

The House Agriculture Committee was able to produce a farm bill that received nearly 2/3 support of Republicans and Democrats. But when the House leadership forced House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., to pull out the nutrition title and move a farm-only farm bill, he alienated his ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., along with every other member of the Democrat party with a vote of 216-208, with zero Democrats voting in favor of the bill.

Partisan fires were fueled by a number of steps taken by the House Republicans including introducing the bill late Wednesday evening with what some said was inadequate time to analyze the 608-page bill; brought to the floor on a closed process which did not allow for any amendments to be made, and dropping the nutrition title without any timeline for its action alienated Democratic members.

"And [partisan politics] doesn't bode well for getting to the end game," explained Pat Westhoff, director of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. 

The question everyone is asking (and still asking) is what kind of promises did the Republican leadership have to make to get some of its members back on board with essentially the same bill that went from having 62 no votes three weeks earlier to just 12 dissenting July 11?

Peterson raised concerns on the floor regarding what the plan was behind the farm-only bill.

"The Republican Leadership has told agricultural groups to support this bill as the way to go to conference, while also telling Republican Members, fearful of the wrath of conservative groups' opposition, that there will be no conference, at least not without first getting concessions from the Senate; concessions the Senate will never agree to," Peterson said.

“There’s a very real chance we could end up in a situation like we have with the federal budget, where the House Majority claim they want something but instead disregard regular order and demand preconditions before appointing conferees, leaving the bill hanging, with nothing getting done," Peterson continued.

And that may be true since as of Monday, July 15, the House leadership hadn't sent the bill over to the Senate so it can begin conferencing the bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she was surprised that after the House passed its farm-only farm bill last week that House leadership did not send over the bill. She said the Senate even left the floor open later on Thursday in anticipation that it would. She called on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "to send us what was passed Thursday so we can go to conference."

She added she has spoken with her counterparts on the House side including a "good discussion" with Lucas and with ranking member Peterson who is also anxious to get to conference.

Stabenow stressed time is of the essence and said the farm bill expires in 6 legislative weeks. Including July 15, Congress will be working only 24 more days. She would like to see the process begin to move this week to allow for enough time to put a final agreement together.

"The longer the House waits before sending something to us, the less time we have before the current extension runs out," Stabenow said, adding she won't support an extension that once again leaves out important pieces of reform included in the bills.  

Leading up and during discussion of the House farm-only farm bill vote last week, Lucas had promised that he would deal with the nutrition title separately since it had proven more difficult to reach consensus. The latest reports indicate a nutrition-only bill may come to the House floor in the next week or two although the House schedule did not include it this week.

Stabenow questioned why if the House was going to pass a partisan farm bill with just Republican support, why it didn't also attach that draconian nutrition cuts many Republicans are also seeking.

She did express confidence that conferees could come together to produce a bipartisan bill that would be bipartisan in both the House and Senate.

But I'm afraid this war is far from over. Is the House going to require unrealistic conditions be met or stall conferencing the bill? Will the Senate draw the line too shallow on nutrition cuts to appease finding a bipartisan majority?

So far no one is willing to throw up the white flag and propose a peace treaty.