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House farm bill situation chaotic

By JERRY HAGSTROM

In a display of the bipartisanship that still marks the House Agriculture Committee, the chairman and two former chairmen of the committee showed up at a breakfast today to honor committee economist Craig Jagger on his retirement, but the situation regarding the 2012 farm bill that the committee has passed could only be described as chaotic.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who chaired the committee during the 2008 farm bill debate, and former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., all praised Jagger for his service as an economist for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

While the Jagger breakfast was taking place, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters, “We will deal with the farm bill after the election,” Reuters reported.

Asked whether that meant consideration of a full five-year bill or an extension, Boehner replied, “The current situation we face is that we've got people who believe there's not enough reform in the farm bill that came out of committee. We’ve got others who believe there’s too much reform in the bill that came out of the committee. In our opinion there would be less than 218 votes to pass either an extension or to consider the entire farm bill. When we get back we will deal with the issue of the farm bill.”

After the event, Lucas declined to make any personal predictions to reporters on what will happen with the farm bill this year. Noting that Boehner had said, “ ‘we’ll deal with it after the election,’ ” Lucas then added, “whatever ‘deal’ means.”

Asked by The Hagstrom Report whether he fears that the lack of action will endanger the re-election chances of some of his Republican colleagues, as has been widely reported, Lucas said, “From midsummer everything becomes political anyway. I can’t answer specific questions.”

Peterson, who was standing next to Lucas, said to him and to the reporters, “Your answer is ‘I don’t know if it will hurt, but it sure won’t help.’ ”

Peterson also told reporters that he has organized a group of House members to poll other members today before they leave town on how they would vote on the farm bill on the House floor, but that he has not decided whether he will release either the number of members who would vote for the bill or their names.

Peterson said that the tally would be taken by both Republicans and Democrats and was organized at a meeting he called Wednesday night at which about 25 House members showed up. There were many Republicans at the meeting, Peterson said, adding that “Republicans are really motivated to get the bill passed.”

Peterson said he started the whip operation because he was annoyed that the Republican leadership never asked the full House membership how they would vote on the bill, but last week did ask them how they would vote on an extension.

The leadership has abandoned the extension effort, at least before the election, but there have been reports that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a leader of the Tea Party faction in the House, and Goodlatte, a critic of the sugar, dairy and ethanol programs, want an extension so that consideration of the bill will be forced to next year when budgetary pressures are likely to be greater than this year.

Meanwhile, five more House members have signed the discharge petition that Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, has filed that would force the House leadership to bring up the bill on the House floor if 218 members — a majority of the House — signs it. The additional five included two Republicans, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Tom Latham of Iowa.

The total number of House members to have signed the petition is 58, but two Republicans — Scott Tipton of Colorado and Renee Elmers of North Carolina — withdrew their signatures, leaving the total at 56.

The conservative Club for Growth has said it opposes the discharge petition as well as the farm bill, and will keep track of members who sign it.

Peterson said he would not sign because discharge petitions “never work.” He noted that if a majority signed the petition, responsibility for bringing it up on the floor would go to Braley because he started it. He said if the bill should come to the floor, Braley wants to turn over the management of the bill to him, but that he did not want responsibility for trying to move a bill written by the Republican majority through the House.

Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., who is facing a tough Senate race against former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, said in a news release today that Boehner “announced for the first time that the House would address the farm bill this year. This is a change of course from previous reports that a farm bill might not be considered this Congress at all.”

“House Leadership has handled this entire farm bill situation poorly, since it should have happened months ago,” Berg added. “After very frank and pointed conversations with leadership and demonstrations of strength from our bipartisan coalition over the past several weeks, the pressure to act on a long-term farm bill is growing.”

“On the heels of this announcement, our bipartisan coalition will continue to keep up the pressure to demand that leadership do the right thing and bring the farm bill to the floor — we won’t stop until this happens,” Berg said.

But Heitkamp said in an email to The Hagstrom Report, “Rep. Berg claimed to support the farm bill in North Dakota, but then in Washington voted the party line to cut crop insurance and slash $180 billion dollars from farm programs. Today there is no clear path forward for a farm bill and Rep. Berg’s failed leadership on the farm bill has led to historic uncertainty for our farmers and ranchers.”