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Stabenow uses deficit reduction to promote farm bill movement

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.


By JERRY HAGSTROM

Expressing confidence that the Senate will move forward with the farm bill despite procedural conflicts between the Democratic and Republican leadership, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., pointed out today that the bill is the only bipartisan deficit-reduction legislation for senators to vote on.

“There is no other bipartisan legislation that offers an opportunity to vote to reduce the deficit by $23.6 billion,” Stabenow said in a telephone news conference. “I am very, very confident we will continue to move forward and get it done.”

Stabenow also signaled that she would use the argument that action on the farm bill is vital for the economy in trying to convince her colleagues to reach agreement on the 220 amendments that have been filed and to finish the bill.

“Failure to act would be a real blow to the economy,” Stabenow said. “This is a jobs bill. This has been the bright spot in the economy. We want to make sure we keep it going and keep our trade surplus going.”

She said it would be “a really sad day if we reverted to the farm policies of the 1940s,” which would happen if the 2008 farm bill expires on Sept. 30 and no extension is passed. She also said that opponents of action favor “the status quo” rather than reform.

Stabenow noted that after procedural discussions on the Senate floor Tuesday evening the Senate is scheduled today to debate and vote on an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to repeal the sugar program and an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to turn the food stamp program into a block grant.

The Senate can only table those amendments, she said, which means rejecting them.

Senators are making speeches on the sugar program now. Shaheen said she hoped senators would vote against the tabling motion, but said she hopes there will also be a vote on her other amendment to make some changes in the program but leave it in place.

Stabenow dismissed the view that the bill is way behind schedule. She noted that Monday evening was spent on the confirmation of a judicial nominee.

“Yesterday was really our first day. We are just getting started,” she said.

Stabenow praised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for his leadership moves on Tuesday evening.

Stabenow said that she and Reid proposed a unanimous consent agreement to bring up a package of two Democratic amendments and three Republican amendments, but that Paul objected to the agreement because he wanted debate on his amendment on Pakistan.

When that happened, Stabenow said, Reid “created a path for us.” Rather than “filling the tree,” a procedural mechanism to control the amendment process that often angers the minority, Reid said the Senate could take up the Shaheen and Paul amendments.

Of Reid’s statements today that he was disenchanted with the legislative process, Stabenow said Reid “wants to light some fires and see that things move.” Stabenow also noted that the same battles over non-germane amendments had occurred on the prescription drug and transportation bills.

Amendments that would restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s powers to make certain changes in implementation of the Clean Water Act and other laws have been introduced, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has suggested that those amendments should be taken up.

Stabenow noted that EPA is not under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture committee and said she hopes “we do not get too far afield and keep this to relevant amendments.”

She also confirmed that she has encouraged Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to work together to try to come up with an amendment that could address the concerns of rice and peanut growers who are dissatisfied with the current commodity title and those who are concerned about the lack of target prices.

Stabenow said she talks with southern senators “daily” and realizes that crop insurance is “not effective” for rice and peanut growers but added that she is pleased the committee was able to work out a program with cotton growers.

Stabenow said she has “tremendous respect and confidence” in both Conrad and Chambliss, but added “we have not had anything given to us to react to.”

When Conrad and Chambliss have a specific, scored proposal, she said, she and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., “will want to sit down with them.”

Stabenow repeated previous statements that there will be have to be compromises among the proposals, but hinted that will be more likely after the House acts on the bill.

“Whether it is done in the Senate or in conference, I am confident we are coming together,” she said.

Conrad acknowledged Tuesday that he is working with Chambliss to work on an amendment that could involve target prices, National Journal Daily reported this morning. Regarding inclusion of target prices, Conrad said “Could be, could be.”

The National Farmers Union, which has strong representation in North Dakota, has said that target prices are needed to make sure the benchmark against which farm payments are made does not go down in a period of several years of low prices.

“Historically, to succeed we have to bring everybody together, or nearly everybody together,” Conrad continued.

Some lobbyists have said it will be hard for Conrad and Chambliss to get the Senate to pass a target price amendment that is kinder to rice and peanuts, and said the issue may be whether holding a vote on that amendment would be enough to get southern senators to support the overall bill even if the amendment does not pass.