The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee is citing comments by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as evidence of hope that Congress can produce a final farm bill in this year’s postelection session.
But many in the agriculture, nutrition and conservation communities are increasingly pessimistic that Congress has the time or the will to complete a multi-year bill in the lame duck. The House Agriculture Committee bill has been on hold since the panel approved it in July, and it seems more likely that lawmakers will vote to extend the 2008 farm law (PL 110-246), which expired on Sept. 30.
“I’m very pleased to hear that Majority Leader Cantor is now committed to bring the farm bill to the floor immediately after the election,” Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a written statement Thursday. “America’s farmers, ranchers, small businesses and 16 million Americans employed in agriculture desperately need the certainty and disaster relief the Farm Bill provides.”
But Stabenow might be reading too much into a news story in the Idaho Statesman with a headline that declared, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promises a vote on stalled farm bill.” In the article, Cantor, R-Va., reiterated a House GOP position: The House will resolve the farm “issue” when Congress returns after the election.
“I’m committed to bring the issue to the floor and then to see a way forward so we can get the votes to pass (a bill),” the newspaper quoted Cantor as saying at a Wednesday event with Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho.
Cantor, like Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who made similar statements before the election recess began, was vague about whether the vote would be on the Agriculture Committee’s bill, an extension of the 2008 law or some other option.
Cantor’s office said Friday that the majority leader’s comments are in keeping with the Speaker’s position and did not break new ground. A spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee had a similar assessment.
The House Agriculture Committee approved its bill in July, but House leaders kept it off the floor because of disagreements in the Republican caucus over the proposed cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The legislation calls for overall savings of $35 billion over 10 years, with $16 billion in reductions coming from SNAP. Conservatives say the cuts should be larger, and most House Democrats oppose any reductions. Before the current recess started, it appeared unlikely that Cantor, Boehner and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., could find enough support to pass the bill.
Nothing apparently has changed in the last month. Cantor noted that action on the committee bill had been delayed because “we don’t have the votes on the floor.”
Stabenow’s committee approved its bill (S 3240) in April, and the Senate passed the legislation in June. The legislation would produce $23 billion in savings over 10 years, with $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts. She and ranking Republican Pat Roberts got the bill through the Senate with a 64-35 bipartisan vote.
“I hope our colleagues in the House of Representatives will follow that lead with a bipartisan approach to this [House farm bill] legislation,” Stabenow said. “It is critical that we are able to finalize the farm bill before the beginning of next year when farm programs begin to expire, which would impact milk and food prices for families.”