The political maneuvering continues in Washington over a new Farm Bill. In an effort to put pressure on the House, the Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow, announced that the Senate is ready to go to conference on a new Farm Bill, “We are ready to go, and I am very concerned that the process begin this week.” The Michigan Democrat said there are only 6 legislative weeks before the current Farm Bill extension expires and, since the Congress only works 4 days a week, that only leaves 24 days. “There is time enough to do it but there is no reason to wait,” she added.
However, the House has not appointed members to a conference committee. In fact, the House has not even sent a copy of their recently passed Farm Bill over to the Senate. Stabenow is not sure why. “I have no idea what they are doing,” she told reporters during a Monday teleconference.
The agriculture portions of the two farm bills are not that dissimilar, with dairy policy being a noted exception. The major difference is that the Senate bill has a nutrition title while the House bill does not. Stabenow says, in the end, that alone could sink the whole process, “A Farm Bill without a nutrition section could not pass the Senate and would not be signed by the President.” Stabenow said she has had conversations with both Republican and Democratic members of the House Ag Committee who, she said, are also anxious to go to conference. When pressed about if she would accept cuts in SNAP greater than is contained in the Senate bill, she was noncommittal but implied this could be difficult to achieve. She also expressed concern that the House Farm Bill becomes the new Permanent Law standard, abolishing the old standard based on regulations written in the 1930s and 40s. Stabenow claimed this would eliminate conservation programs from permanent law status, “I would like to know why this would be good for agriculture and what ramifications it would have.”
House leadership has indicated they will not go to conference on a Farm Bill until they pass a separate House nutrition bill. When that will happen remains unclear. What also remains unclear is if the House nutrition bill would be a bi-partisan effort or a Republican only bill.