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Democrats Weigh Farm Bill Threat

Senators Consider Letting Agriculture Programs Expire to Spur House Action

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow stressed the need to pass a farm bill, not an extension.

After passing a farm bill this summer, Senate Democrats could decide to allow agriculture programs to expire at the end of the month in an effort to spur House Republican leaders to pass a farm bill and work out differences between the chambers in the next few months.

"It's not about an extension. We need to pass the farm bill," Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

Democrats have also ramped up the rhetoric against House leaders.

"We're at a stage now where it's been a total failure ... of leadership in the House," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after his party's weekly caucus lunch. "Just to walk away from this? And that's what they're doing. There is no bill that's come from the House. Nothing."

Reid called on the House to take up the Senate's bill, seemingly backing away from the position he took before recess, when he said he would be willing to move a standalone drought aid bill if the House took the Senate's language.

A top House Republican aide was "highly skeptical" that the Conference would be able to do anything on farm issues before the elections and unclear on what the House might do on the issue in the lame-duck session.

Democrats have been taking their cues on the issue from Stabenow, who has been helping lead the charge to pressure the House to pass its farm bill, which was cleared by the House Agriculture Committee in July.

The Senate passed its farm bill in June, but House GOP leaders have yet to consider the chamber's committee-approved measure because a fight over how much to cut from the food stamp program has prevented them from finding a majority for passage.

Both chambers have very few days left to work out a deal as lawmakers are looking to get back on the campaign trail ahead of the upcoming elections.

The House could leave town as soon as the end of the week, with the Senate likely to clear out soon after.

"We only need a couple [of days] in the House to get this done," Stabenow said.

"If the House acts now, we could quickly resolve our differences and pass a bill ... even if it's the last thing they do, we negotiate it over October and quickly pass it when we come back in November," Stabenow said, noting that discussions took place over the recess.

She said agriculture interests are also focused on a full bill rather than an extension.

When asked about the farm bill Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would prefer an extension to expiration, but he noted that not all Republicans agreed.

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