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Boehner considering farm program extensions while Ag leaders meet on farm bill conference report

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is considering bringing up as early as next week an extension of existing farm programs that would include disaster aid funds to help drought damaged areas, while key farm bill players met this evening to discuss ways to move a House-Senate farm bill conference report in September, The Hagstrom Report and National Journal have learned.

Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said publicly that they have not made any decision about when to bring up the farm bill, but farm leaders, Hill Democrats and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have said that the need for disaster aid, especially for livestock producers, makes quick passage of the farm bill vital.

Knowledgeable House sources confirmed late today that Boehner was considering bringing up either next week or in September an extension of the bill with disaster aid added.

The length of the extension could not be confirmed, although Politico said it would be for one year. An extension would complicate reform plans, since the bills passed by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee end the direct payments program and establish new programs that the Congressional Budget Office says will cost less. But an extension would avoid an election year fight over food stamps.

The clamor for disaster aid became clear Monday when Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, announced that he had led “the entire Iowa delegation in introducing legislation to extend agriculture disaster programs that were created in the last farm bill through 2012.”

The Loebsack-authored Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act would include all the 2008 farm bill disaster programs that have expired, including the controversial Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE). The other programs which would be extended through the end of this year are the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Disaster Forage Program (LFP), Tree Assistance Program (TAP), and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Tim Johnson of South Dakota.

“With no end in sight to the current conditions, we must move quickly to ensure farmers and producers in Iowa and across the country who are struggling have access to a safety net,” Loebsack said. “I am pleased the rest of the Iowa delegation joined me in introducing this legislation, and hope they join me in calling on House leadership to quickly bring up and pass it.”

“Farmers and ranchers throughout the country are suffering under this unrelenting drought and we cannot wait around any longer to see how politics will play out with a new farm bill,” Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, said. “Our producers are requiring immediate action on the part of Congress to provide them with some necessary relief from these disaster conditions and quell this uncertainty on whether these aid programs will continue to be funded.”

Meanwhile, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees — Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. — were scheduled to meet tonight to discuss how to start work on conferring House and Senate bills over the August recess, according to congressional aides and an industry source.

Those efforts are complicated by the chances the House will adjourn next week without having advanced bill beyond the committee level. A Senate aide familiar with discussions said the main challenge is finding a way forward in the House.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told The Hagstrom Report late today that the way to round up votes in the House is to reduce the size of the $16.5 billion cut to food stamps in the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill.

“What saved the last farm bill was the nutrition title,” McGovern said. “I want there to be a farm bill with a robust nutrition title. I wish them all the luck in the world.”