Momentum builds for short-term farm bill

Momentum began to build on Thursday for a House vote on a short-term extension of the farm bill next week, with key Democrats opening the door to supporting it.

House Republicans have until now been unable to decide whether to try to pass a five-year reform bill, back a one-year extension of current programs or pass a pared-down bill that deals with drought assistance.

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Leadership this week floated a one-year bill, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has been whipping support for it.

House leaders say that given opposition from fiscal conservatives and liberals, the votes are not there for a five-year bill.

Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture panel, has opposed a short-term extension but on Thursday opened the door a crack. He said he could support an extension if it quickly led to a conference committee with the Senate on a full bill.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) then made her move Thursday, officially backing up that suggestion.

“If the House intends to send us a bill that will be used to negotiate the Farm Bill during August, I am open to that approach,” she said in a statement.

However, she emphasized that “a short-term extension is bad for farmers and our agricultural economy.”

“If Congress does what Congress always does and kicks the can down the road with a short-term extension, there will be no reform, direct payments will continue, we'll lose the opportunity for major deficit reduction and we’ll deliver a real blow to our economic recovery,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House will address the drought emergency in rural America, but he did not specify if disaster aid would come paired with a one-year farm bill or the full five-year overhaul that passed out of the House Agriculture Committee.

“We’re continuing to work with Chairman Lucas and the members on the committee on an appropriate path forward,” he said.

“We’re still working on it,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Peterson said GOP leadership wants the House to pass a one-year extension, but “they don’t know if they can pass it without Democratic votes.”

He said that members who oppose the farm bill want it passed off to the next Congress.

“They think they will have a chance to kill the sugar program or the dairy program, or get $200 billion out of food stamps,” he said.

Peterson signaled that he could back an extension if there were strong guarantees that it could be used to start a House-Senate conference on a full farm bill. The Senate passed its bill in June.

The House Agriculture bill cuts $35 billion from the deficit over 10 years and includes $16.5 billion in food stamp cuts. Those cuts are not enough for many conservatives, while liberals oppose them as too extreme.

During a weekly floor colloquy with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also said there has been no decision on the farm bill.

He said that he hopes Hoyer can support a separate bill extending expired disaster assistance, if such a vote is scheduled. The Iowa delegation this week introduced a bill that would extend disaster aid that expired last year for ranchers and specialty crop producers.

Hoyer said that he does not support the five-year farm bill but still urged Cantor to bring it up, noting Peterson's support. Hoyer personally opposes the farm bill but believes in advancing it to a House-Senate conference.

The Senate bill cuts only $4 billion from food stamps and has different crop insurance provisions than the House bill. It is also opposed by Southern farmers because it lacks price-based subsidies.

Cantor noted Hoyer's disapproval of the bill and stressed that the Senate bill does not have a majority of support in the House.

— Posted at 12:18 p.m. and updated at 2:15 p.m.

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