PCG EMAIL SERVICES: POLITICO.COM - Agriculture panel heads meet on farm bill
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Fri Jul 19 07:29:02 CDT 2013
POLITICO.COM - Agriculture panel heads meet on farm bill
By DAVID ROGERS
7/18/13 7:33 PM EDT
Updated: 7/19/13 5:50 AM EDT
Farm bill talks advanced Thursday as the top leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met to begin their discussions and the Senate later took the first steps to request a formal conference with the House.
“We are very serious about working together and getting this done,” Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told POLITICO. “And I am very confident we will.”
That said, the Michigan Democrat had to endure a long afternoon of uncertainty before finally getting her consent request to go to conference through the Senate Thursday evening.
At one stage, the Democratic leadership thought the effort was doomed. But Stabenow went in and out of the GOP cloakroom and recruited Republican members of her committee to overcome threatened objections.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who happened to be speaking on the floor at the time, was instrumental, as was Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Even the sometimes disgruntled Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) came back to the fold to work through the objections, many of which appeared to come from the conservative Steering Committee faction in the Senate GOP.
“We all want our amendments but we have to get a farm bill,” Roberts told POLITICO.
“Everyone was gracious. I’d rather not name names,” Hoeven said later. “I thought I had it cleared around noon. You saw what happened. Debbie Stabenow told me others had cropped up, I went to work.”
In a single stroke, the Stabenow motion served to call up and amend the House farm bill—approved last week—with the Senate’s fuller version that includes a nutrition title funding food stamps and local food banks around the country.
This is important because the House Republican leadership had jettisoned the same nutrition title last week to win back the votes of conservatives for the farm bill. By doing what she did, Stabenow establishes the nutrition programs as a qualified subject for the House and Senate conference.
Mindful of this, Republicans in the House are expected to slow walk the process of appointing conferees to give them more time to reach agreement on how to approach the food stamp issue.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has convened a working group of about 21 GOP members to be a sounding board of sorts for Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). Most are conservative and there’s no suggestion of including Democrats. But liberals like Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) on House Agriculture are pressing for Lucas to hold a full hearing on hunger and the food stamp issue before proceeding.
A first meeting of the Cantor group was held Wednesday and Lucas wants to move quickly. Yet as a practical matter, this process will take enough time that it’s very likely that no formal conference will begin before the August recess.
That doesn’t preclude talks like those that began Thursday among the top members from both parties. “We may or may not formally go to conference,” Stabenow said. “But it would help us move things along if we did.”
“This is a very important step as we move forward in what I am very confident, despite the twists and turns, will result in a bipartisan farm bill,” Stabenow told the Senate after her motion was accepted.
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