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Key architects of a long-term farm bill are hoping to keep their “delicate” agreement intact, even as a likely floor assault from Members of both parties and various regions threatens to thwart a final deal.
Senators in both parties believe there will be enough support to break a filibuster and open debate on the 10-year, $969 billion package as long as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) allows for an open amendment process. But opening the floor to myriad amendments — many of which may be more political than policy-related — could prove troublesome when the measure comes to the floor, possibly this week.
When asked Monday whether there were 60 votes to open debate on the bill, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said, “Yes. That’s not in question.”
She added, “These days, in the Senate, there are larger issues involved with the leaders in terms of negotiating other bills and such, but we have the 60 votes to proceed.”
Stabenow said she expects “a lot of different kinds of amendments” and noted that she and her staff had identified most potential Democratic amendments but were not yet clear on the universe of GOP amendments. She warned that she will be looking for Republicans to offer relevant proposals so the bill won’t be derailed by extraneous issues: “We’re going to be open and fair, but in the end analysis, if someone’s just trying to obstruct, then we’ll handle that.”
Stabenow said the process of debating the bill could take two to three weeks, but some Democratic leadership aides said the Senate might take a week and a half on the legislation, with or without approving it.
Perhaps the most significant boon to the bill’s chances on the floor comes from the relationship developed between Stabenow and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) as they moved the bill through the committee.
In the process of negotiating the final committee product, the two veteran lawmakers spent long nights in Stabenow’s office suite working the phones with Members of their own parties to build enough support for the farm bill, which ultimately passed out of the panel on a 13-5 vote in April.
One selling point has been a Congressional Budget Office projection that the measure will shave $23.6 billion from the deficit over the next decade.
But the roadblocks to final passage aren’t exclusively partisan or procedural — they are also regional, as Senators from the South look to protect different agricultural or conservation interests than their Midwestern counterparts, for example.