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Farm Bill Is Latest Breakthrough for Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Stabenow announced the farm bill conference report Monday.

A Congress known for epic dysfunction and expected to be a foil for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address is starting to creak to life — this time with an agreement on a five-year farm bill announced Monday.

The farm bill deal would be the first formal conference report of the 113th Congress — coming more than a year in and joining recent budget and spending compromises as signs Congress can get at least some of the work that used to be of the vanilla variety done.

Of course, the fact that the farm bill is more than a year overdue merely emphasizes how dysfunctional Congress has been of late.

Nonetheless, the relief at the Capitol in recent weeks has been palpable.

“It is a conference report,” said Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “And we’re still smiling at each other.”

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who shook hands with House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., on her own $1 trillion spending bill a few weeks back, walked by Stabenow and a small group of reporters in the Capitol basement and exclaimed, “Your turn!”

House leaders planned to bring the bill to the floor Wednesday, before Republicans head to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for their annual issues retreat.

“We haven’t slept for a while. ... [We’re] running on caffeine and adrenaline at the moment,” Stabenow said when asked about how the critical final dairy compromise came together. “I’m very pleased to say we have brought everyone together.”

Other conferees, including House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., also backed the deal.

“Compromise is rare in Washington these days but it’s what is needed to actually get things done,” noted Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking member of the committee.

The recent spate of agreements has raised hopes both at the White House and on Capitol Hill that Congress will be able to hammer out at least a few more modest deals before both sides set their sights exclusively on the November elections.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin struck an optimistic note Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” suggesting “a new bipartisan spirit” with the latest budget deals.

“We certainly need it on Capitol Hill,” the Illinois Democrat said. “Speaker [John A.] Boehner had to stand up to his tea party Republicans and say I know it’s bipartisan, I know it’s a compromise, we’re going forward. If he continues in that spirit, maybe we’ll get a farm bill after waiting on the House for two years.”

And White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer mentioned the farm bill Sunday on CNN’s conveniently named “State of the Union” show on a relatively short list of measures on which Democrats and Republicans could work in harmony.

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