House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., rolled out a framework proposal for the Farm Bill that would be $6 billion above the baseline. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, welcomed it as the basis for further collaborative work.
Several farm groups ripped the proposal's policy funding, but Peterson emphasized the need to settle on a price tag before negotiating policy. Harkin agreed, saying that reaching an agreement with the White House on how much money there would be for the bill is the key and that after that was the time to get into the policy negotiations.
"We've got to get a number - something we agree on," Harkin says. "Then we change our policies and fit our policies within that framework. If we don't know what the number is going to be, how do we know what our policy can be?"
To attempt to find that number, the major players scheduled a closed door session Thursday night. Ag leadership of the House and Senate as well as Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner were expected to meet to find a figure that would be acceptable to all.
Harkin told reporters Thursday that the Senate feels the number needs to be higher than the $6 billion in the House framework. He said he would propose a higher number during the meeting.
The meeting will be the last full meeting on the subject until after Congress returns from the Presidents' Day recess.
"Hopefully we'll reach some agreements here," Harkin says. "And then we'll wrap this thing up hopefully by March 15."