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Farm bill debate starts

DANIEL LOOKER 06/12/2012 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee are working behind the scenes to get amendments to their  farm bill down to a manageable number that are relevant to the committee's jurisdiction.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Senate had considered and defeated just two amendments, one that would end the sugar program and another that would turn food stamps into state-run block grant programs.

In spite of the slow start, the committee's chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) sounded confident that Senate's leadership will find ways to eliminate amendments that have nothing to do with agriculture from more than 200 that have been written so far.

Stabenow said last week's procedural vote to move the bill to debate shows strong support for the farm bill. It drew bipartisan support from 90 senators last week.

"I would suggest that people not underestimate the number of people in the Senate who care on these issues," she said.

"This is a process of negotiations. It always is," she said.

Under Senate rules, real debate on the farm bill did not start until Tuesday, she said. "We are in a spot when those who want to obstruct and don't support what we're doing have the chance to throw some sand in the gears. None of this is surprising at all," she said.

But, she said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is working with her committee's Ranking Member, Pat Roberts (R-KS) to find a way to move the bill ahead and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is working with Stabenow.

Rice and peanut farmers aren't happy with the Senate bill, which they contend does not offer adequate support for their crops. Stabenow said that if those interest propose programs that will fit with the committee's fiscal goals, "Senator Roberts and I will sit down and talk to them." 

Wednesday's votes tabled the two farm bill amendments. One, offered by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) would have ended the sugar program. It was tabled by a narrow vote of 50 to 46. 

The other amendment to turn the federal food stamp program into state programs supported by federal block grants, was tabled in a 65-33 vote. The amendment was offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). 


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