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House Ag markup of farm bill begins Wednesday morning

The House Agriculture Committee will begin markup of a new farm bill at 10 a.m. Wednesday amidst speculation that there will be fewer amendments than expected and that the bill may not go to the House floor until after conference with the Senate.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., completed talks on the discussion draft more than a week ago and released it to the public last Thursday.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Early this evening, a House aide said that only five amendments had been filed. One agricultural lobbyist said that amendments were being kept to a minimum because “No one wants to piss off the chairman.”

Farm groups that have been critical of the House bill’s provision to continue target prices that trigger countercyclical payments toned down their rhetoric this week as they pressed committee members to pass the bill.

“We’ll battle it out in conference,” said one lobbyist.

The American Farm Bureau Federation issued a letter Tuesday detailing its views on the House farm bill.

Meanwhile, House Agriculture General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, both speculated today that the farm bill might not be brought up on the House floor, but might be combined with the Senate bill in a conference report.

Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas
Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas
Conaway made his comments in an interview with Congressional Quarterly.

But a Conaway spokesman told The Hagstrom Report late Tuesday that the comment had been “an anecdotal example given in the context of a much larger conversation."

“Congressman Conaway is committed to regular order and will continue to follow Chairman Lucas’s leadership in having a new farm bill drafted,” the spokesman said.

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio
Gibbs told the American Soybean Association that he also believed the bill might not come up on as a stand-alone measure on the House floor, but might still be in conference with the Senate bill to become law.

House Republican leaders have expressed a lack of enthusiasm for bringing up the measure because it is likely to divide Republicans who want deeper budget cuts than Lucas and Peterson have proposed from those who want to pass the farm bill as written.

A Lucas spokeswoman declined to comment on the Conaway and Gibbs statements. “Chairman Lucas’s focus is to advance the bill out of committee tomorrow. Conversations regarding floor time are premature.”

Peterson has pushed hard for the Republican leadership to schedule the bill on the floor, and a spokeswoman said today “ he’s busy with farm bill markup.”

Chuck Conner
Chuck Conner
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner, a former Senate Agriculture Committee staff director and Agriculture deputy secretary in the Bush administration, said he believed the markup would be finished Wednesday, although it might not happen until midnight. There has also been speculation that the markup could last until Thursday.

Conner told the soybean growers that he believes the farm bill’s best chance of becoming law this year will be as part of a process to deal with the deficit and taxes in a lame-duck session of Congress.

“I think that’s agriculture’s opportunity to fight above our weight class,” Conner said. He suggested that members of the agriculture committees ask the congressional leadership to “include the work that we have done as part of that economic package.”

Asked about not taking it to the floor, Conner said that the House could do that under its rules if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the House Rules Committee choose to go that route.

If the decision is made not to bring the bill to the House floor before conference, farm leaders will “need to be careful that it will not bite us in the keister,” Conner said, noting that “ultimately, the House has to pass the conference report.”

The bill’s provision to cut the supplemental nutrition assistance program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, by $16 billion over 10 years is expected to take up the greatest part of the markup discussion, but it is unclear whether amendments will be offer to eliminate the cut, reduce the cut or increase it.

House liberal Democrats and anti-hunger leaders held a news conference on Wednesday to express opposition to the cut.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said that she went on food stamps 45 years ago when her husband walked out on her and she had to support three young children.

Her children are now grown and productive workers and taxpayers, Woolsey said.

“The federal investment has more than paid off,” she said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., pledged that the Out of Poverty Caucus would work to defeat the farm bill if it comes to the floor with the food stamp cut while subsidies to agribusiness remain. “We’re not going to let an immoral agenda permeate and win in this House,” Lee said.

The House Republican proposal would cut what’s known as “categorical eligibility,” which allows people who qualify for other social programs to get food stamps and reduced or free school meals even if the parents make slightly too much money to pass the regular food stamp test.

The Food Research and Action Center pointed to a General Accountability Office report that it said justified the practice.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
Sugar and dairy groups said they expect Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to offer amendments to make changes to the sugar program and to eliminate the supply management provision of a new dairy program.

The Goodlatte sugar amendment appears to be identical to one that failed when Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., offered on the Senate floor. Sugar grower and users groups have been issuing news releases all week urging members to vote their way on the amendment, and other farm and bank groups have urged members to vote against it.

The National Milk Producers Federation urged a vote against the dairy amendment that Goodlatte is expected to offer with Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., while the International Dairy Foods Association said it is opposed to supply management.