House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, (R-Okla.), will again spearhead the debate of the next farm bill as he scheduled markup of the farm bill for May 15.
General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Conaway, (R-Texas), told ag journalists that last year's day-long marathon farm bill markup in the House that lasted from 10 a.m. until the early hours of the morning was the "best legislative day" he's ever experienced on the agriculture committee.
Getting 218 votes can be challenging, Conaway noted, but "one party rarely gets it all right." Last year's House markup included many bipartisan votes on contentious issues including food stamp funding, dairy supply management and sugar support. Lucas was able to manage the discussion to allow views to be openly debated, while still keeping legislators on task.
Although Republican leadership pressured the chairman to take more time and consider tougher changes in the food stamp program to gain more conservative votes, Lucas said he would still hold listening sessions first with the Republican whip's office so as to maintain his schedule and produce a bipartisan bill.
Last year the Senate moved first on its farm bill markup and passage on the floor. This year the dynamics between Chairman Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.), and her new ranking member Thad Cochran, R., Miss., continue to create more bumps along the road. Reports indicate Cochran is in similar views as House ag leaders, but Stabenow's hope to bring up the bill in April appear to now be impossible.
The Senate's version last year did not receive many votes from southern legislators who were upset with how crops in the region were handled. Stabenow said she's discussing how to handle target prices on rice and peanuts and continue to make sure the program doesn't distort markets. Whether base versus planted acres determine target prices is also being looked at, she said.
Cochran denied reports that he's holding up the mark-up on the Senate side and added he "won't move to postpone it." Cochran adds a new dimension to the Senate farm bill discussions following last year's clear cooperation between former ranking member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Peterson conceded the House still has its differences on the bill as leaders struggle with coming up with savings when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored savings of last year's farm bill less favorably in an update issued earlier this year.
Stabenow said she will still try to achieve the $23 billion in savings as proposed last year. The Farm Bureau updated its policy recommendations and they too targeted savings at $23 billion.
Peterson said the hang-ups remain in Title 1 commodity programs, dairy policy and food stamps. Peterson explained that although food stamps received a lot of the heat last year for the farm bill not getting passed, it was largely politics that got in the way of a final deal, especially among Republicans who were hopeful for a change in political power in the White House and Senate.