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Farm bill in motion

The farm bill is in motion again in Washington. This week it has become both a political football, and also a physical bill passing from one chamber of Congress to another in what could be the start of writing a final draft for a final vote.

Tuesday morning, less than a day after Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) called for action, the House formally sent its "Farm-Only Farm Bill" to the Senate.

Later on Tuesday, Stabenow told her colleagues on the Senate floor, "I want to congratulate the House for sending their version of the Farm Bill to us this morning, so we now have it. And tomorrow it would be our intent, Senator [Thad] Cochran (R-MS) and I, to go through the motions that it takes to be able to send back our farm bill and ask for a conference committee."

Over in the House, Republicans got a memo from their Agriculture Committee Chairman, Frank Lucas, spelling out the next steps for the House bill. The Senate can "either approve [it] as is or amend it and then send it back to the House requesting a conference," Lucas told them.

Lucas acknowledged "some bumps in the road" to get to this point, and that splitting the nutrition title out of the House bill before it came up for a vote broke with tradition.

"However, the vote last week was a critical step in completing the bill as soon as possible," said the memo obtained by "The simple fact is we now have a vehicle with which we can put in place a formal process to send a final 2013 farm bill to the President for his signature. Any suggestion to the contrary is playing politics with this process and does a disservice to our farmers and ranchers."

Lucas promised to keep working on legislation to reform food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and that he will meet with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and other "interested members" of the House to discuss that issue. He also said that reconciling the agricultural portions of both farm bills can begin immediately "no matter the outcome of future House consideration of SNAP reform.

"Separating nutrition programs from the rest of the farm bill does not end SNAP, nor does it preclude SNAP reform from being included in a final conference report," he pointed out.

The desire of some House Republicans to cut SNAP spending much more than the $4 billion reform in the Senate bill could still be the issue that prevents final passage. And it's not the only point of difference that could make writing the final bill, or conference report, challenging.

"The Senate farm bill is inadequate on a number of fronts beyond providing insufficient reforms to SNAP," Lucas told his colleagues. Its commodity title "simply does not work for all commodities in all regions of the country and leaves many producers without a viable safety-net while locking in profits for others."

"Additionally, the Senate bill puts in jeopardy our crop insurance system – which we have heard over and over is every producer’s top priority – by restricting participation of the most efficient producers and placing unnecessary and burdensome regulations on others. And lastly, the Senate bill does not include any regulatory reforms to help mitigate some of the most onerous regulatory pressures plaguing our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities," Lucas wrote.

Yet, even with those tough issues, he said "I am confident that if we listen to our producers and do what is right, we will reach agreement and send a five-year farm bill to the President in the coming months."

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