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Better margin for House farm bill

DANIEL LOOKER 05/16/2013 @ 7:10am Business Editor

Just before midnight Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee voted 36 to 10 to advance its own version of a farm bill for a vote that's expected in June on the floor of the House.

The bill drew slightly more support than last July, when the 2012 version passed 35 to 11. This year the committee's bill had more GOP support, drawing just two no votes from Republicans, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Bob Gibbs of Ohio. Goodlatte opposes a dairy program championed by the committee's ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Gibbs is opposed to the committee's target price program being linked to planted acres.

Democrats who opposed food stamp cuts, led by Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, voted against the bill.

After a day of debate that was nearly as long as the committee markup in July of 2012, Peterson told reporters he doesn't know how many members of his own party will vote for the bill.

"There aren't many of us left," Peterson said of the moderate, fiscally conservative members of his party who have been defeated in rural districts in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The Committee's Chairman, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, who remained patient with a flurry of last minute amendments from new members, later told reporters he has been assured of a vote on the House Floor in June by House leadership.

When asked to handicap its chances of passage, Lucas said, "The extremes will never support us, but I think we have enough of a coalition."

Committee leaders have said this spring that they'll need a bipartisan coalition to pass a farm bill. Peterson also said he hoped the leadership would modify rules on floor debate, otherwise he believes there could be some 600 amendments offered.

Privately, one major farm group lobbyist told Agriculture.com Wednesday that any bill coming out of the House this summer will be far different from the one passed by the committee.

Other lobbyists have told us that Democratic support is questionable, even from the party's leadership. And recently elected Tea Party Republicans and other fiscal conservatives will balk at voting for a bill that has a 10-year price tag of nearly $1 trillion--$940 billion according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate released Monday.

Dee Vaughan, a Dumas, Texas farmer who is past president of the National Corn Growers Association, stood at the back of the Ag Committee hearing room as the final amendments were debated. He likes the House bill, he told Agriculture.com. And he plans to spend much of June in Washington to urge members of the House to pass it.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, told Agriculture.com Wednesday morning that she expects debate of her committee's farm bill to start next Tuesday on the floor of the Senate. A motion to proceed with the bill was introduced the Senate Wednesday.

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