Sept. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Jobless Benefits, Farm Bill Hit Snags

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Ayotte is pushing to eliminate a child tax credit for children of undocumented immigrants to pay for the unemployment extension and to undo a reduction in military retirement benefits in the budget agreement.

The most obvious place to find the money to offset extended jobless benefits, a demand of the GOP, may be in the bill that provides food stamps, but that plan will first require a to-be-determined deal on the farm bill.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas didn’t mince words on the topic after a Wednesday meeting of the top four farm negotiators on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.

“I want this over with more than you can possibly imagine,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

Lucas said no one from leadership had approached him about using the expected savings from a farm agreement to offset the cost of extended unemployment benefits — or anything else.

“We on the conference have been focused on ag policy, and that’s not an issue that’s been brought to my attention by anybody,” Lucas said.

“Leadership is a wondrous and mysterious thing,” Lucas quipped, noting that during the recent budget negotiations, “House leadership made it quite clear that we weren’t a part of those ... so I have not heard anything different.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled Tuesday that he was open to the idea of linking farm savings with jobless benefits.

Several Senate Republicans who backed the initial vote to take up the bill have pushed for offsetting the roughly $6 billion cost of the three-month patch now pending before the Senate. But GOP ideas so far are non-starters on the Democratic side. A coalition led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is pushing to eliminate a child tax credit for undocumented immigrants to pay for the unemployment extension and to undo a reduction in military retirement benefits in last month’s budget agreement.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, has called for a vote on delaying the health care law’s individual mandate for a year.

Reid’s said he’s willing to look at other offers, but in a statement, New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer said, “I don’t think there’s much enthusiasm for a three-month offset deal on our side.”

As for the Democrats’ suggested plan, Tuesday’s optimism that a farm bill conference report could be completed this week — with or without jobless benefits — waned on Wednesday.

Two Senate Agriculture Committee members suggested that is in part because of direct involvement by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on dairy programs.

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