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Farm bill is still doable, Stabenow says

DANIEL LOOKER 09/11/2012 @ 3:43pm Business Editor

One day before hundreds of farmers and farm group leaders rally for a new farm bill in Washington, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said it's not too late to pass a farm bill in the House.

"It's very clear to us that the organizations that represent farmers and ranchers across the country are calling on us to get the job done," Stabenow told reporters in a press conference Tuesday.

She pointed out that leaders of major farm organizations have written the Senate's majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and its minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging them not to approve a disaster bill passed by the House this summer. They want the Senate to keep the pressure on the House of Representatives to hold a vote on the farm bill that its ag committee has already passed.

Stabenow said the House disaster bill isn't adequate because "their disaster bill does not help every farmer that's had a loss."  It does nothing for fruit growers who had big losses this year from a damaging freeze that followed a warm winter, she said. And it doesn't address dairy policy.

Nor does Stabenow favor extending the current farm bill, which expires on September 30. 

"It's not about an extension, we need to pass a farm bill, and they have plenty of time to do it," she said. "I don't care if there's eight days left, we only need a couple in the House to get this done."

"In my time here, this is my fourth farm bill. l have never seen a situation where a bipartisan farm bill came out of committee and was not taken up on the floor," she said, referring to the House leadership's delay in bringing the bill to a vote.

Many farm bill programs, including food stamps and crop insurance, would continue even if the law expires, but Stabenow questioned the necessity of putting the farm community through uncertainty. Some in Washington are speculating that the farm bill could be passed in the lame duck session of Congress after the election, but Stabenow said there is still time to put the Senate's farm bill and any House farm bill into one final version with a conference committee that would include the leaders of both the House and Senate agriculture committees.

The ag committee staffs put together a framework of choices for the final bill during the August congressional recess. Stabenow said that most of Senate and House bills are nearly identical, except for the commodity and nutrition titles. Those differences could be resolved quickly, she said. She also believes that the House would pass its ag committee's farm bill if the leadership there would allow a vote.

Stabenow said that if the House passes a farm bill this month, the conference committee could meet in October and both chambers of Congress could vote on final legislation in November.

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