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 StabenowSenate Dems raise concerns about shutdown's impact on assistance to taxpayers Durbin signals he will run for reelection Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee 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 RobertsPompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation Budowsky: Warning to Senate Republicans The Hill's Morning Report — Negotiations crumble as shutdown enters day 17 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 ShaheenGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days 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 PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria 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 ReidSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Harry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy 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 McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation 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 ChamblissOssoff tests waters for Georgia Senate run CIA's ‘surveillance state’ is operating against us all Juan Williams: GOP plays the bigotry card in midterms 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.