The on-hold farm bill will continue to stay that way thanks to the House's recent proposal to cut nutrition programs by $40 billion over 10 years, Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said during a conference call Thursday.
The Michigan Democrat has been pushing for a conference on the bill since the House passed half of it – the "farm-only" portion – last month, but with a nutrition proposal now surfacing, she said the path forward has suddenly become less clear.
House leadership made the decision to separate the commodity title and the nutrition titles into two bills following the House's defeat of the full bill in June, citing disagreements over nutrition cuts that Democrats felt were too steep.
"It's now put us in another situation where it’s going to be harder to get a farm bill done," she said, explaining that the House's nutrition portion must be passed before any conference action can be taken.
In contrast, if the House would have appointed conferees before working up a nutrition portion, both chambers could have conferenced the Senate's full bill and the House's farm-only bill.
Pundits speculated after the farm-only farm bill's passage that feet-dragging to name conferees on the House's part could be the case, given that if Republicans had entered into a conference with the farm only bill, they would not have a bargaining chip for the nutrition title.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., frustrated with Thursday's House-proposed cuts, said it's all part of a "political messaging" effort – another display of partisan disagreement that has longed plagued the farm bill.
"Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year," Peterson said in a released statement.
"Clearly [the House Republicans] have no interest in compromise or actual legislating," he added.
Stabenow also pointed out the shrinking timeline and lack of agreement on proposed nutrition cuts that lead the House to defeat the full farm bill in the first place.
"I don't understand the thinking in the House leadership in putting forward something that I'm not even sure can pass the House, certainly cannot become law and just creates another barrier to our getting the farm bill done," she said.
"It's getting in the way of a serious discussion, and frankly, in the end without a farm bill all the reforms we have put in to tackle fraud and abuse in the nutrition title will go away. So for those who want reforms, they need to support a farm bill."
As time winds down for lawmakers to move on the farm bill, some are calling for drastic measures to keep moving on what little momentum the bill has.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in a July 30 letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, called for lawmakers to forego August recess until the work was finished.
"The current Farm Bill is living on borrowed time. With only nine legislative days in September, Congress should not take its August recess without completing a comprehensive Farm Bill," he said.
Braley said continued delay of the farm bill will reduce critical investments and production, and it will hurt the bottom line for farmers and consumers. Stabenow agreed, noting an "all or nothing" attitude of many lawmakers indicates uncertainty that another extension could be passed.
Some lawmakers, she said, are against any form of extension because it would likely fund direct payments, a provision that has been eliminated from the last two Senate farm bills. But with the House only in session for nine days upon their return from August recess, the future doesn’t look promising.
"This is going to be a very difficult discussion if we don’t get this done," she said.