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Senate Agrees on Way Forward on Farm Bill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and ranking member Pat Roberts helped negotiate an amendment deal on the farm bill.

Sources were cautiously optimistic that the Senate will approve a bill that received a bipartisan 16-5 vote out of committee. But it is also clear that certain regional disputes will be tougher to bridge and that even if the Senate does pass the bill, the road to the president’s desk likely will be difficult, if not impossible, with a Republican-controlled House.

For example, the Senate approved a transportation and infrastructure bill in March with 74 votes, but the conference committee tasked with finding a final package is faltering. The House did not come to the table with a comparable bill, failing to produce its own legislation that would have enough votes to pass its chamber.

Moreover, the conservative wing of the House GOP is government-spending averse, and even though the Senate version of the farm bill would shave $23.6 billion from the deficit, it’s likely House Republicans would defect over funding programs such as crop insurance or food stamps.

Because the farm legislation includes deficit savings, some aides had suggested it might be used in negotiations later in the year as an offset. But today, a now-or-never attitude pervaded the Senate side of the Capitol, as aides milled about the hallways just off the chamber, working their cellphones and conferring with each other and with Senators.

Multiple sources familiar with Democratic negotiations said this week would be the do-or-die week for the bill, and the agreement reached later in the evening suggests there is life for legislation that just one week ago seemed to be headed toward a legislative coma.

If and when the Senate wraps work on the farm bill, multiple aides said flood insurance legislation would be taken up next.

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