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“There were some items right before Congress we can do together, passing immigration reform, extending unemployment benefits for 1.6 million Americans, patent reform, innovation act ... the farm bill. There are things they can get done,” Pfeiffer said.
But the respite from partisan standoffs on big-ticket business probably won’t last long.
Obama is preparing a “year of action” speech Tuesday that’s certain to push past Congress and outline a host of executive actions, and both parties are preparing their political messages heading into the midterm elections. But the lawmakers in attendance Tuesday night will be on the verge of what once would have been called routine, but now counts as a major legislative achievement — passing a farm bill important to both rural and urban lawmakers alike.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that he plans to take up the measure during the current three-week work session. “It’ll reduce the deficit and cut waste and fraud, all while protecting hungry children and families,” he said.
The measure would provide about $20 billion in deficit relief, money that could theoretically be used elsewhere to pay for other priorities such as reviving the extended jobless benefits, which has been a key priority for congressional Democrats and the White House.
The deal will cut food stamps by $8 billion over a decade, far less than the $40 billion sought by the House and double the $4 billion sought by the Senate, by limiting the ability of states to use minimal energy subsidies to qualify residents for the program.
Stabenow defended the level, despite opposition from some liberals, such as Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
“We have done nothing that changes eligibility or eliminates anyone from food assistance help,” she said. “We have gone after waste, fraud and abuse and we are tightening up this connection with [the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.]”
The deal doesn’t exactly portend a return to the “good old days,” but Monday’s conference agreement suggests that the system sometimes still functions, albeit belatedly.
White House officials have also mentioned transportation and infrastructure efforts to boost the economy. A conference committee has been established to work out differences between the chambers on a water development reauthorization, with a new highway bill needing to move this year, too.
The conferees still have to sell the package to the rank and file, although there are no immediate signs of trouble.
There have been no shortage of stumbling blocks since the Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill in 2012 without the House taking action. Much to the consternation of Stabenow and like-minded lawmakers, the budget agreement designed to avert the fiscal cliff at the start of 2013 included a farm program extension that maintained the often-derided system of direct payments for another year.