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Farm Bill’s Cloudy Forecast

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas said last week that the current political climate has made it even more difficult than ever to move a farm bill.

“It will make it very difficult to pass, no doubt,” Stabenow said. “The level of cuts they’re talking about, even Chairman Lucas expressed concerns, so we’re going to move forward with the bipartisan agreement that we put together in the fall, which gives a significant deficit reduction, but it’s fair.”

The farm bill, which must be reauthorized every five years, bundles several important initiatives, including benefits for farmers and ranchers, food stamps and conservation policies. The Ryan budget, passed by the House last week, calls for $122.5 billion in cuts from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and $29.3 billion from agricultural commodity and insurance programs.

The committee already has been working around cuts imposed by the failure of this fall’s Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction of $23 billion from farm programs — a particularly tough sell for Democrats — which has caused the Senate committee to push back internal dates for releasing plans at least three times, according to aides.

Top Members and aides on the committee said the “hope” is still to get a bill done by this spring.

“Clearly, that’s a tougher, a steeper hill to climb,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), a member of the Agriculture panel. “We’re going to probably be marking up a bill … in the next few weeks, and we’ll see whether we can get time for it, for consideration on the floor, but I think under any circumstance, we know that there are going to be significant reductions in spending in a lot of areas.”

The effort has not been any easier in the House, where Lucas has taken a slower approach to putting together his legislation.

According to GOP aides, Lucas has been hesitant to introduce his version of the farm bill until he is sure Stabenow will be able to move hers through the Senate.

“The biggest wild card there … is that the chairman has said all along, very publicly, that he’s not going to mark up a bill if the Senate isn’t going to do it,” a GOP aide said.

Lucas last week acknowledged that progress in the Senate would boost his panel’s ability to produce a bill. “Right now, it’s fair to say the Senate is running ahead of the House, and if the Senate could move something then out of committee … we could get our work done,” he said.

But with 13 freshmen on the committee — many of whom came into office on promises to cut federal spending — it has taken significant time to educate Lucas’ new panel members, and the chairman doesn’t want to “hang a bill out there, especially with all these freshmen on the committee.”

Republican aides speculated that given the demands of conservatives for more spending cuts, Lucas could ultimately decide to use Ryan’s $33 billion in cuts that are included in the budget’s reconciliation instructions as a blueprint for trimming spending under the bill.

 

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