Sen. Stabenow optimistic that hurdles for passing farm bill can be overcome

Facing one of the toughest challenges of her career, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  Dems want climate change, tax hikes in infrastructure deal Critics accuse EPA of weakening pollution rule for Pentagon MORE (D-Mich.) on Wednesday expressed optimism that she will be able to save the 2012 farm bill from defeat on the Senate floor.

“I am very confident that we will continue to move forward and get this done,” she said. “Failure to act would be a real blow to the economy.”

Stabenow, who is running for reelection, said she and committee ranking member Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsJuan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise Women's civil rights are not a state issue The Hill's 12:30 Report: Tough questions await Trump immigration plan MORE (R-Kan.) have made significant progress in whittling down the 247 amendments filed to the farm bill so that the most important can be debated.

A bipartisan agreement on how to proceed on the farm bill remains elusive. If Reid simply moves to cut off debate, the GOP might vote down the farm bill on procedural grounds even though enough Republicans support the substance of the bill to get it through the Senate.

The Senate will take two votes on amendments Wednesday morning. One, from Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Details on Senate's 0B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast Senate defense bill would pull Turkey from F-35 partnership if it buys Russian missile system Trump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran MORE (D-N.H.) to end the U.S. sugar program, benefits growers but is opposed by sugar users. Another, authored by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulO'Rourke: Trump 'provoking' war with Iran by sending troops to Middle East Overnight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran MORE (R-Ky.), would cut the food stamp program by turning it into a capped block grant for the states to administer.

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Technically, the votes will be on whether to table the amendments, since there is no agreement on holding actual votes for final passage on them. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (R-Nev.) tried to start up-or-down votes on Tuesday but was blocked by Paul, who wanted a vote on an amendment to end all foreign aid to Pakistan over the trial of a doctor who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden.

“We are in a spot where those who don’t support what we are doing, who want to obstruct, throw some sand in the gears. It is not surprising,” Stabenow told reporters Wednesday.

While Stabenow and Roberts pare down the list of “germane” amendments, Reid is handling the discussion of items like the Pakistan amendment with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval MORE (R-Ky.).

“Sen. McConnell has been supportive of Sen. Roberts,” Stabenow said.

She said that talks continue daily with Southern senators over a possible amendment to increase farm subsidies for rice and peanut growers. 

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has taken a lead role in crafting a compromise on additional supports for rice and peanuts, she said, along with Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissRepublicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump budget reignites border security fight MORE (R-Ga.).

“The role Sen. Conrad is playing is very welcome and constructive,” she said, adding that she has not seen any final proposal from him since official Congressional Budget Office scores are being run.

Chambliss this week filed an amendment that would introduce countercyclical payments for rice and peanuts.

Target prices for peanuts would be increased to $534 per ton, and the target price for rice would be set at $13.98 in the amendment. If prices fall below those levels, the government would provide subsidies to growers.

Some Democratic aides said that there is irony in conservative Republicans like Chambliss advocating for “Soviet-style” central planning such as target prices.