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Campaign Fodder in Stalled Farm Bill

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Rick Berg talks with Rep. Kristi Noem at the National Farmers Union rally to urge Congress to pass a farm bill before the end of the month. Both could be in trouble at home over Congress' inability to move the measure.

With agriculture programs headed for expiration at the end of the month, Democrats are hoping farm state Republicans will be put at a political disadvantage.

"It's leaving a lot of Members in rural areas out on a limb over why they can't convince their leaders to take up the bill," a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

The Senate passed its five-year agricultural program reauthorization in June, but House GOP leaders have yet to consider a House Agriculture Committee-approved measure because of concerns that the votes aren't there. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been grappling with Republican disagreements over how much to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

"There is a deep divide in their party," the Senate aide said.

The issue has already popped up in a marquee Senate race in North Dakota.

Rep. Rick Berg (R) is running against Democratic candidate Heidi Heitkamp for the seat of retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D). Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, blasted Berg this week for failing to help get more than a dozen signatures on a discharge petition that would force the House bill to the floor. The petition requires 218 Members for action, and to date more than 50 Members have signed on.

"The failure of Rick Berg to get even a dozen signatures on the discharge petition after almost two months of work is a huge reversal from a year ago, when he told reporters that he had relationships not only with the House freshmen, but powerful House committee chairmen as well," the Heitkamp release said.

For his part, Berg believes he has left no stone unturned when it comes to passing a farm bill, including being critical of GOP leaders who, last week, floated the possibility of trying to pass a three-month extension of current farm programs.

"Rick believes we have the bipartisan support to pass a full five-year farm bill and the idea of a three-month extension of the farm bill perfectly sums up everything that is wrong with Washington," a Berg spokesman said. "On one hand we have House leadership saying we cannot keep kicking the can down the road on important issues, but their inaction on bringing a five-year farm bill to the floor shows they are completely content in doing so."  

Berg's spokesman also said that House leaders won't know if they have the votes for the House bill unless the chamber takes it up.

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