With the House's July 11th passage of a slimmed-down 2013 Farm Bill, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says time is of the essence to conference a bill on which both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate can agree.
But there's not a lot of time to get a bill conferenced before the Sept. 30 expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill extension – lawmakers have only six legislative weeks and 23 days to get the job done, by the chairwoman's own tally.
"We're anxious to go and I'm very concerned that that (conference) process begin this week," Stabenow said in a Monday conference call.
Sen. Stabenow urges farm groups to keep working with legislators on Farm Bill's next move (file photo)
A few problems keep that from happening, however. For one, the House hasn't reported the bill to the Senate. While that's clearly a hurdle, Stabenow says that hasn't kept her out of informal talks with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Ag Committee.
"We can't go to conference unless we have something that relates to the farm bill from the House," Stabenow explained. "We can begin discussions – we are informally talking – but we can't go to conference without some part of the farm bill."
Besides legislative regulations, Stabenow said another issue for the bill will be the President's signature, a stamp of approval that will require further discussions on how to handle food stamps and the nutrition title.
That discussion, which was left out entirely from the House Farm Bill last week, will need to either be addressed in the House or allow Senate provisions to be adopted in conference. Without them, Stabenow said the Senate will not pass a bill and the President won't sign it.
"Our bill passed with a nutrition title so we can put the nutrition title back in a final bill," she said. "The only way anything that makes any sense for agriculture, conservation, families, consumers gets passed is if it has bipartisan support in the House."
Anxious for the bill to head to conference, Stabenow said the rural community has a role – keep pressure on lawmakers.
"I hope there is an outcry if we haven't even been able to get to conference by August. I think that all the farmers' and ranchers' organizations needs to continue to work with us to show that there is strength in the agricultural economy across the country," Stabenow said, citing lost Senate seats due to the inability to pass a farm bill last year.
Having worked for more than two years on the bill, "it feels like Groundhog Day to me -- every time I get up we do the farm bill again," she noted.
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