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Farm bill draft near in Senate

DANIEL LOOKER 04/17/2012 @ 10:16pm Business Editor

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said she hopes to be able to make a draft of her committee’s farm bill public by Friday of this week, with the full committee voting on its provisions starting next Wednesday.

“We have a tremendous amount of consensus on the majority of the bill,” Stabenow said Tuesday at a press conference organized by the North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, DC.

The conservation title of the farm bill has broad support, she said, and will be streamlined and simplified.

“In this case we really are doing what the public wants us to do,” she said.

The committee and its staff are still working on last minute changes to the commodity title of the farm bill. Stabenow said different regions have different challenges.

On Tuesday, the committee was still working on the level of target prices for commodities in the bill.

“We’re still working through all the pieces,” Stabenow said

Peanut growers and rice farmers are affected differently by ending direct payments and Stabenow said there might be a “phase-in” of changes for those crops.

“I have not drawn a firm line in the sand,” she said.

Last fall, when both the House and Senate ag committees crafted a farm bill, it would have had a mix of programs for different commodities, with target prices that reportedly would have been higher the market price for rice.

And the committees’ bill would have saved $23 billion in federal spending over the next decade.

Full details of the proposal weren’t made public. The farm bill drafted for the deficit-trimming “super committee” last fall wasn’t passed. It was meant to be part of a larger deficit-cutting plan that was never adopted.

When asked if the latest version of a Senate Agriculture Committee farm bill would also cut $23 billion, the committee’s ranking Repubican, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas said.

“That’s the plan right now. That could change,” he said, adding that the Congressional Budget Office is going to score parts of the farm bill, in other words, it will project the cost to the federal government of different programs.

Roberts was asked how similar the Senate committee’s bill will be to the one drafted last fall.

“We started over,” he said.

He didn’t share details of proposals from different regions, including one offered by North Dakota’s two senators, a Democrat and a Republican.

“We’re working with all commodity groups in all sections of the country. That’s always a challenge,” he said.

“It’s the best bill possible and we have to move. We simply cannot allow an extension I don’t think an extension would pass the House, I don’t think it would pass the Senate,” Roberts said, adding that his view was “just conjecture” and not based on a head count.

“We’re not trying to say no to any group,” he added. “We’re trying to work with them and I think we’re making progress.”

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