Farm bill action heats up

Farm bill action is heating up even though the House is on recess.

The top four leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are moving to set up face-to-face meetinsg in Washington as early as Wednesday, aides said.

House Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is returning from Minnesota on Tuesday to step up work on the 2013 farm bill, his office confirmed. Peterson last week called on his colleagues to finish negotiating a farm bill by Thanksgiving so that rural lawmakers don't lose control of the bill to a rival budget conference committee looking for cash to replace automatic sequester cuts.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Minn.) said staff has been hard at work since last Wednesday's inaugral meeting of the farm bill conference committee.

Senior committee member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said there is only so much the staff can do. "We need to meet and start taking some votes," he said. He said his understanding is that staff has been working on non-controversial titles in the bill such as the research title.

The most important titles involve commodity subsidies, crop insurance and food stamps with the latter being the most difficult. The House cuts $40 billion from the food stamp program on top of $11 billion that went into effect last Friday. The Senate cuts $4.5 billion and Peterson said that Senate Democrats are not willing to go above $10 billion in total cuts. 

Because the total farm bill savings cuts the deficit between $24 billion and $53 billion it is a ripe target for the budget conference committee that is trying to complete work on a deal by Dec. 13. Without a deal, the governement could shut down again in January.