Stabenow urges compromise for farm bill

Lauren Schneiderman
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on Thursday urged all sides to back down and agree to a dairy compromise in order to complete the stalled farm bill.
 
Stabenow says she has floated compromises to resolve a deepening dispute between 
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and supporters of dairy production controls in the Senate farm bill.
 
“Over the weekend we’ve got to come to a conclusion here ... we are basically down to focusing on differing approaches on dairy,” she said. “It would be a shame if the Speaker tried to stop the farm bill at this point.”
 
Earlier on Thursday, Boehner said that he was “confident” supply management would not be in the final farm bill. The Speaker took the unusual step last year of urging his House colleagues to strip the provision from the House bill, which was done on the floor through an amendment. 
 
Stabenow argued that Boehner’s demand to remove supply management from the dairy subsidy program would balloon its costs. Plummeting prices would trigger larger subsidies hurting the taxpayer.
 
“I’m hopeful that the Speaker will take a look at the fact his proposal ... would cost billions of dollars more in taxpayer money, which is certainly not something we want,” she said. “There are certainly are compromises if people are willing to do that.”
 
Stabenow did not mention House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the chief proponent of the dairy provisions, but said “what we need are people of goodwill to be willing to compromise and get to 'yes.' ”
 
The Michigan senator, who has tried to pass a farm bill since 2012, said that the bill could be done this month, but ruled out finishing it next week, as had originally been the goal. She said the House could vote on the farm bill next week, and that the Senate could tackle it after the Martin Luther King Day recess. 
 
Stabenow said dairy is “pretty much the last hurdle,” and that a separate dispute on payment caps for subsidies was on its way to being worked out. 
 
To get to the floor, negotiators might skip doing a farm bill conference at all. That would involved getting enough conferees to sign the chairmen’s mark.
 
A meeting had been seen as needed to allow for amendment votes on items like country of origin labeling for meat and whether to end a duplicate catfish inspection program favored by domestic producers but opposed by seafood importers. 
 
“So much is locked up that may not be necessary at this point,” she said. 
 
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said separately Thursday that Stabenow and Senate Democrats are refusing to discuss his amendment aimed at stopping states from banning the import of products based on means of production. He indicated that without that amendment in the farm bill, he may be unable to support it.