Wednesday, December 05, 2012

As Farm Bill is stuck in congressional 'no man's land' GOP senator switches to support Senate's version

Roberts, left, with Stabenow
In a move that puts him at odds with House Republican leaders, Pat Roberts of Kansas, top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Agri-Pulse that he now supports Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, and is working with Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to get it passed as part of any "fiscal cliff" resolution. "We hope that we can see a train there on the other side of the tunnel," Roberts told the Washington newsletter. "Anything that moves, that needs money, obviously here's the way to do it."

The Farm Bill has been in place since the 1930s, and has sustained farmers through fluctuations in commodity prices, yields and weather. Every five years commodity groups, representing growers of rice, soybeans, wheat, cotton, peanuts and corn, lobby Congress for support. But this year, the bill is stuck "in no-man's land as the budget-and-tax war rages on Capitol Hill," Dan Freedman of the San Antonio Express-News writes.

The fight over the Farm Bill is causing "fissures among conservative Republicans," Freedman writes. Tea Party advocates see the bill as violating conservative and free market principles, spending too much on food stamps; House Speaker John Boehner has said it contains "Soviet-style" provisions on dairy subsidies. But farm-state Republicans "see Farm Bill spending as a wise investment in the rural economy and U.S. food security," Freedman writes.

The Senate version of the bill is geared more toward Midwestern soybean, wheat and corn farmers. The House seems more inclined to do more for Southern peanut and rice growers. A Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee basically guarantees rice farmers a "safety net" price they can use to get a bank loan at the start of the crop cycle, something many rice farmers say they could not have survived without. (Read more)

Expert sources on the House and Senate version of the bill told Agri-Pulse it wouldn't be hard to mesh the two versions, but Roberts said last year he wasn't a fan of the Senate version. "Roberts seemed to express a more conciliatory tone during a meeting between Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Stabenow, [House Ag Committee Chairman] Frank Lucas and House Ag Committee ranking member Collin Peterson last week, when he said the group reviewed Farm Bill challenges without negotiating any specific provisions," Agri-Pulse reports.

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