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Senate waits for House farm bill

DANIEL LOOKER 07/15/2013 @ 4:42pm Business Editor

The Senate Agriculture Committee's Chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D-MN) warned the leadership of the House of Representatives Monday that time is running out to get a farm bill passed before the old law expires at the end of September.

"We are ready to go to conference committee on the farm bill. We've put together a comprehensive bipartisan bill twice," Stabenow said of the Senate. The conference committee consists of members of House and Senate agriculture committees who negotiate the differences between bills passed by both chambers, producing one final bill to be approved or rejected by Congress.

"I'm very concerned that the process begin to move this week," Stabenow said. "There's no reason to wait or delay the process any more."

Stabenow said that after the House passed a farm bill without a nutrition title last week, that "we fully expected to receive it in the Senate right away."

"When Majority leader [Eric] Cantor (R-VA) announced they were not going to send us a bill, I was pretty stunned," she told reporters during a telephone press conference.

The two bills may have bigger differences than most that have gone to conference committee. Besides stripping out the nutrition title for the first time in 40 years, the House bill also would replace the 1938 and 1949 permanent law with the House version of the rules governing commodity programs.

Stabenow said that leaves a question of what happens to the rest of the farm bill, including its title on conservation.

"This is a very, very serious issue," she said, adding that it may be the biggest worry of agricultural groups. "There's a tremendous amount of questions, tremendous amount of opposition to doing this."

For Stabenow, it's a third serious attempt at getting a farm bill through Congress. In 2011, she and Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who was the top Republican on her committee at the time, worked with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and the ranking member, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) to draft a farm bill that would have been included in a deficit-cutting bill by a "Super Committee" of House and Senate members. The Super Committee failed to reach agreement, so the bill, with its $23 billion in savings, failed, too.

Last year the Senate passed another farm bill drafted by Stabenow's committee, only to see it die when the House leadership refused to bring the bipartisan bill from Lucas's committee to a vote. This year a farm bill seemed closer when the Senate again passed a slightly different version of a farm bill. Lucas's committee produced another bipartisan bill, but the House resisted its own leadership by voting it down in June. Last week's vote by the House on the "Farm bill farm bill," as Lucas calls it, passed by a narrow, Republicans-only vote.

At one point, Stabenow had to pause to remember how long ago she and other ag committee leaders had put together the "Super Committee" farm bill and joked, "This feels like Groundhog Day, the movie, to me. Every time I get up we do the farm bill again."

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