Updated 5:08 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to put the fate of the nation's farm programs firmly in the House's lap Monday afternoon, saying his chamber wouldn't pass another stopgap measure.
"I want everyone within the sound of my voice — as well as my colleagues on the other side of the Capitol — to know that the Senate will not pass another temporary farm bill extension," the Nevada Democrat said. "It is time for real reform that protects both rural farm communities and families who need a little extra help feeding their children. If the speaker took up the Senate’s bipartisan measure, it would easily pass the House with both Republican and Democratic votes."
Reid said that he had spoken with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the farm bill and the two agreed that extensions are not a tenable solution. Farm policy was last extended as part of the fiscal-cliff deal that kept lawmakers working through New Year's Eve. However, that deal provided only an extension that kept a number of unpopular programs largely in place, including direct payments.
Congress has been through this ordeal before, and House Republicans do not seem too worried about this particular Reid threat.
“Senate Democrats made the same threat last year, and then passed a short-term extension," a House GOP leadership aide said in an email in response to Reid's comments.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, took the step of saying he would support getting a farm bill into conference, a point Reid highlighted on the floor Monday afternoon. The House version of the farm bill included much larger cuts to nutrition programs than in the Senate's package, but the House last week rejected it, 195-234.
House Republicans said they expected more assistance from the Democratic side to get the bill past the all-important 218 votes needed to get the bill out of the House. The White House had threatened a veto of the House version.
Of course, if the House passes a farm program extension, Reid and other Senate supporters could seek to use that as a vehicle for a House-Senate conference on farm policy, without the House having a real position entering negotiations on farm programs and nutrition programs.
While the Senate passed its version of the farm bill 66-27, the real test was always on the House side.