Southern senators outmaneuver enemies of catfish program

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Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) also oppose ending the program, and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) objected to the amendment on the floor during this year’s debate. 

Catfish producers say the USDA program is needed because the FDA cannot properly inspect catfish. 

Opponents say the program is duplicative and is being set up to harass importers of Asian catfish in order to benefit domestic producers. 

“Last year, during the farm bill [consideration], the Senate voted overwhelmingly to repeal it. Yet this time around they will not even consider it,” said Gavin Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute, which represents seafood importers. “The program that the House [Agriculture] Committee just voted to repeal won’t even be heard on the Senate floor? Really?”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), head of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade, has warned Vietnam might retaliate against U.S. beef exports over the inspections.

A final vote on the 2013 farm bill is slated for Monday evening. 

McCain is still trying to get a vote despite the uphill battle.

"Agriculture Committee staff assured us that they would work with our office to get a vote, and Sen. McCain went to the floor to try to bring it up, but the farm bill managers have stonewalled," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said. "This is the only amendment that was passed by the Senate onto last year's farm bill but has not been allowed consideration this year. 

"It’s outrageous that in these challenging fiscal times, the farm bill managers refuse to allow a simple vote on a widely supported amendment eliminating a duplicative, wasteful program that serves no legitimate purpose except to prop up Southern catfish farmers at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.”

“With our amendment, we had a chance to save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by rolling back a duplicative, unnecessary catfish inspection provision in the farm bill. This was a bipartisan, common-sense proposal that passed the Senate last year and would’ve passed again had it received a vote. It’s disappointing that congressional leadership blocked that from happening," Shaheen said.

The House committee bill contains a provision ending the program. If that remains in the bill, the final disposition of the catfish program would be resolved in an eventual House-Senate conference committee.

--This report was updated at 4:39 p.m.