House ag leaders press for farm bill approval

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U.S. Representatives Frank Lucas, R- Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Collin Peterson, D- Minn., Ranking Member, were busy this week reminding their colleagues of the importance of passing a 2012 Farm Bill before Dec. 31. However, with many pressing issues surrounding sequestration and the ‘fiscal cliff’ facing the Congressional lame duck session many believe the farm bill will not be addressed.

“As far as I can determine, the $35 billion that we tried to save in the house ag committee version of the farm bill is one of the few bills that have real savings that are really countable,” Lucas said. “If there’s a window of opportunity I want to get the farm bill done.”

Lucas wants others in Congress to see how important it is to finish work on a farm bill in 2012. “Remember when the new congress convenes in January all legislative business expires and we have to start fresh.” Lucas says he will continue to work with Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to get the farm bill done.

Meanwhile, Peterson urged House Republican leaders to bring the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan five-year farm bill to the floor for a vote when Congress convenes in the lame duck session next week. “The election is over so it’s time to get to work,” he said. “I’m optimistic that, if given the chance, we have the votes to pass a five-year farm bill.”

Peterson said there is no good reason not to vote on the bill when Congress returns next week. “This will give us the time we need to work out our differences with the Senate and get a new five-year farm bill signed into law by the end of the year.” Peterson has made it clear that he opposes an extension of any kind for any time. The 2008 Farm Bill officially expired Sept. 30.

Lucas however, left the door open to the possibility of extending the current farm bill due to taxation and defense budget issues that may prevent the House from taking up action on the farm bill. “If we can’t get this done in December and there is a one year extension, be prepared to hit the ground running in the spring,” he said. “We’re not going to start all over in our hearing process. We’re going back to markup immediately if we can’t complete this in the present session of congress.”

The Senate passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill last summer but House leadership delayed consideration of the version passed by its ag committee saying it wanted bigger cuts in the food stamp program, which makes up about 75 percent of the bill's cost. The House Ag Committee's farm bill would slash $16 billion from the food stamp budget over 10 years, four times more than that proposed by the Senate.

House Republican leaders refused to call a vote on the bill during the summer, saying there was not a majority for it, according to Reuters. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R- Va., has indicated he will bring the House version to the floor during the lame duck session.

The Senate and House versions will eventually have to be reconciled before a final draft could be sent for a signature by President Obama.

Many observers agree that the lame duck session will not have time to address the farm bill. "Odds are against a five-year farm bill in the lame duck (session) unless it's part of a budget agreement," and a budget deal is also unlikely, said Pat Westhoff of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research, an ag think tank based at the University of Missouri.

Barry Flinchbaugh, Kansas State University agricultural economist, said he does not expect a new farm bill until April. The final version probably will look like the Senate bill, Flinchbaugh told a bankers' meeting in Milwaukee this week.

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