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Stabenow: Farm bill proposals need CBO scores

The proposals for compromise between the House and the Senate on the farm bill need scores from the Congressional Budget Office, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told The Hagstrom Report today.

In a brief interview after the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), Stabenow said that her meeting on Wednesday with the other three principal farm bill negotiators — Senate Agriculture ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. — had been a “really good discussion” about “a broad framework,” but she added, “We’ve got to get scores.”

Asked whether the four principals would meet Tuesday when the House and Senate return after Veterans Day, Monday’s federal holiday, Stabenow said that the four are in constant communication.

During the vote on ENDA, which would ban workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, Stabenow was in discussion on the Senate floor with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., for at least 15 minutes. Stabenow would not say whether they were talking about the farm bill in that discussion, but she said that she and Hoeven “talk all the time about the farm bill” and that those discussions are “very positive.”

The two weeks beginning Tuesday are likely to determine whether Congress will finish the farm bill this year.

Both the House and the Senate will be in session during that time. But both chambers are scheduled to leave on November 22 for a Thanksgiving break, and congressional aides have said they are likely to be out of session for two weeks. That schedule would mean that members would return on December 9 for another two-week session before they are expected to depart on December 20 for the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Although the House- and Senate-passed farm bills do not expire at the end of December because the congressional session will continue for another year, Congress is under pressure to finish the farm bill by then, in part to avoid another round of headlines about milk prices skyrocketing if permanent farm laws from 1938 and 1949 go into effect.

Congress only has until January 15 to figure out how to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year or face another government shutdown, as the continuing resolution that funds the government at the present time expires on that date.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said today that the Senate is expected to come back into session on January 6. (See following story on the 2014 Senate schedule.) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has said the House will come back into session on January 7.

A congressional conference committee on the budget is trying to come up with an overall budget plan that would provide a framework for the new continuing resolution, and that committee is supposed to finish its report by December 13.

Stabenow sits on the Budget conference committee. She said today that she expects House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis, to make a proposal “on a path forward” to the conferees next week.

Peterson said in a radio interview Wednesday that Stabenow had mentioned the possibility of the farm bill being included a budget bill, an idea he dislikes

Peterson also said the four principals are continuing to debate whether payments to crop farmers should be made on the basis of historic base acreage or current plantings.

That interview took place before the meeting of the four principals on Wednesday.

Peterson said that after the meeting he intended to go hunting.