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Stabenow: Farm bill on floor early June

By JERRY HAGSTROM

MONTEREY, Calif. — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said here late Friday she expects the farm bill to come up on the Senate floor in early June and to garner at least the 60 votes needed to end debate and move to passage.

In an exclusive interview with The Hagstrom Report before she gave a speech here, Stabenow said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will bring up the bill "the first week in June."

One lobbyist said there have been signals that the bill will come up on the floor June 5, but Stabenow said she was "not ready to confirm" a specific date.

The lobbyist also said there are rumors the House bill will be marked up during the third week of June, but that speculation could not be confirmed over the weekend.

Forty-five senators as well as Stabenow and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have urged Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring up the bill.

Some lobbyists have noted that the number of senators openly urging the leaders to open up the debate on the bill is fewer than 50 and have questioned whether Stabenow and Roberts can convince the 60 senators needed to end debate to vote for it. They pointed that only two southern senators signed the letter in favor of floor consideration.

But Stabenow said in Friday’s interview, "I'm confident we have 60."

Southerners have complained that the commodity title provisions do not work for rice and peanuts, and National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson told a House subcommittee last week that the bill should provide protection against low prices.

Stabenow defended the current commodity title proposal as market-oriented, but said she is still "open to listening" to those who are dissatisfied with it.

In her speech to the Cooking for Sustainable Solutions conference at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Stabenow urged organic and local agriculture advocates and conservationists there to support the bill.

Stabenow noted that it had taken her advocacy on four farm bills to get a specialty crop and organic title to be adopted. She explained that, having achieved that goal in the 2008 bill, she has worked hard to preserve those provisions in 2012.

The Senate Ag committee chair added that because the specialty crop provisions did not have baseline funding, she has had to find money for them.

The proposed new bill not only triples funding for farmers' markets, she said, but also includes provisions for community gardens, greenhouses, cooking classes for low-income families, and coupons to help food stamp beneficiaries afford more fruits and vegetables. It continues the fruit and vegetable snack program in the schools.

Stabenow also said that even though there is a cut to conservation programs, "The conservation title of the farm bill is really a big win for sustainability."

Stabenow also urged the conference attendees to oppose the House plans for big cuts in the food stamp program, now officially known as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP.

The Senate version would cut $4 billion over 10 years from food stamps. In contrast, House proposals would cut at least $33 billion and possibly turn food stamps into a capped block grant to the states.

Such a block grant to states destroys the guarantee the money would be spent on nutrition, she said. Children whose parents have lost their jobs need food, she said, and they should not have to bear the brunt of the country’s deficit reduction.

Stabenow said that both Senate and House leaders have given "good support" to writing a new bill because "it's complicated to try to extend" the 2008 bill.

She admits she is concerned whether the House can pass the bill, but said she has confidence in the leadership of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to get the bill through.