Despite an election year riddled with partisan politics the impossible became possible this week when Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and ranking member Pat Roberts shepherded their farm bill to approval in the Senate.
“Passage of this bill shows that when people come together, Congress can still get big things done,” Stabenow said. (For audio from Roberts, click on the audio link above.)
The 64-35 vote was preceded by a marathon of amendments after a list of 73 was agreed to late Monday evening for votes. The Senate ag leaders skillfully worked through allowing both germane and non-germane amendments while still wrapping up votes in three days.
The actions last week definitely gave everyone outside of the Beltway a little glimmer of hope that government can function.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., acknowledged that the farm bill debate was one of the “finest moments in the Senate in recent times in how you pass a bill” with the Senate operating in a way that it traditionally would with a cooperative effort that allowed for members to express themselves and openly debate legislation.
Responding to the passage, many farm groups expressed gratitude for the bill, but also admitted the bill is not perfect and looked to the House and an eventual conference committee to make tweaks.
Former Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss did not support the bill, stating it “still lacks the regional balance” he advocated for the past several months. An amendment from Chambliss to include a target price support system was not voted on, but remains more popular on the House side to address what southern producers see as commodity inequality in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program.
“It is still my hope to support the bill at the end of the legislative process, perhaps after action by the House of Representatives and a conference of the two chambers,” Chambliss said.
The National Cotton Council stated the “cotton industry has reservations about a number of provisions in the Senate-passed legislation, but believes that the cotton title will facilitate successful resolution of the cotton component of the Brazil WTO dispute. The cotton industry looks forward to working with the leaders of the House Agriculture Committee and Cotton Belt members as they develop their version of new farm legislation.”
Now all eyes are on the House Agriculture Committee as it announced mark-up of the House bill will start July 11.
Both Chairman Frank Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson released statements following the passage of the Senate farm bill commending their Senate counterparts but reiterating the House version will have a different approach to policy.
Stabenow said she has been in consultation with House ag leaders and staff during the Senate’s work on its farm bill and the Senate’s version has the same “broad parameters” the two chambers worked on last fall while attempting to come up with budget savings.
The House Agriculture Committee has not agreed to its version, but Stabenow said she has “great confidence” they will be successful in reporting out of their committee.
“If the House can pass a bill, I’m confident we can get this done,” she said.
Peterson said it is crucial to finish the farm bill before the current bill expires in September. “Waiting until the mess that will occur during the lame duck session will not only make it more difficult, but could also result in several unintended consequences,” he said.
If the House Ag Committee passes a bipartisan bill in early July, House leadership will then have little choice but to bring the farm bill to the floor before the August recess. “I’m continuing to work with Chairman Lucas and members of the Committee to make this happen,” Peterson said.
Lucas had intended to mark up the farm bill prior to the July 4 recess, but his timing changed when plans were made to bring the House agriculture appropriations bill before the entire chamber.
Lucas said the agriculture committee has to be “all hands on deck” with the appropriators. The administration “strongly opposes” the ag appropriations bill in its current form, the White House said on Thursday.
We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the amendments passed in the weeks ahead in future postings at DC Dialogue.