Agriculture committee heads double down on passing five-year farm bill

The heads of the House and Senate Agriculture Committee are doubling down on their push to pass a full five-year farm bill by Sept. 30 and are resisting efforts to pass a one-year extension.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) met Tuesday to chart a path forward.

‪But while Lucas is also preparing to deal with a possible one-year bill, the other agriculture leaders were initially unenthusiastic about the shorter extension.‬

Peterson said Wednesday that the four lawmakers are setting up meetings with respective House and Senate leaders and seeking support to “pre-conference” competing Senate and House farm bills in the coming weeks.

“Some people want to preconference ... but we want to get support from leaders first,” he told The Hill.

Lucas confirmed there is an attempt to try to pre-conference the farm bill in August. "There is an effort to see if we can get as much done as possible, so that it is possible to move quickly if and when we can," he said.

Lucas would not say when he will next meet with his leadership. "I avail myself of every opportunity I can to talk to my leaders about the importance of the farm bill," he said.

The Senate passed a $969 billion farm bill in June by a 64-35 vote, while the House Agriculture Committee passed its $957 billion bill by a 35-11 vote this month.

So far House leaders have been reluctant to move the bill, saying they have not lined up the votes.

Fiscal conservatives want deeper cuts to farm subsidies and nutrition programs, while liberal lawmakers are against the $16.5 billion in food stamp cuts in the bill.

The head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Wednesday leadership should not bring up the farm bill. "I'm against it," he told The Hill.

There is talk of a one-year extension or moving a drought relief bill and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday acknowledged rural areas are facing an “emergency” that needs to be addressed.

Peterson is pushing back against a one-year extension.

“It just isn’t necessary,” he said. Peterson said that farmers will not need subsidies until the spring harvest. Food stamps meanwhile continue on autopilot even when the current 2008 farm bill runs out Sept. 30.

Asked about a one-year extension, Lucas appeared less opposed than Peterson. "I am in favor of anything that helps us get a farm bill done," he said.

Stabenow continues to advocate for a full bill rather than an extension. She has said shepherding the farm bill through would rank up there with saving the Detroit auto industry as career achievements.

Roberts on Wednesday signaled some openness, and said that he does not have a final position on a one-year extension yet.

"Discussions are continuing," he said.

The Iowa delegation on Monday, led by Rep. Dave Loebsack (D), introduced a bill to extend certain expired disaster relief programs that would otherwise be extended or reformed in the 2012 farm bill.

Peterson is also pushing back against that solution while advocating for the full farm bill.

“It isn’t paid for,” he said, estimating that the Loebsack bill would cost $2.5 billion. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate and is also searching for a pay-for.

A pre-conference on the competing farm bills would be contentious.

The bills have different subsidy and food stamp provisions. Both eliminate direct payments to farmers, even if they no longer farm, and both expand crop insurance by lowering deductibles.

The House bill is less generous on revenue-based crop insurance but it maintains a price-based system that is favored by Southern peanut and rice farmers.

The Senate bill cuts less from food stamps, $4 billion rather than $16.5 billion. It gets its savings from changes to the link between food and heating assistance, but does not address the wider issue of categorical food stamp eligibility.

Story was updated at 1:28 pm.