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Branches jockey for farm bill positions

By Larry Dreiling

While the House-Senate farm bill discussions continue, the White House staked out its position in an address in New Orleans.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow signaled Nov. 5 that face-to-face talks among the top four farm bill negotiators will resume this week, and she is upbeat enough to hope for a deal by Thanksgiving.

“I hope so. It’s doable,” the Michigan Democrat said to the Capitol Hill publication Politico.

“I feel confident the four of us can come together,” Stabenow said, speaking of herself, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS; Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN; and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK.

While the House remained on recess through Veterans Day, Peterson’s office confirmed that he was flying back to Washington early in the week, and Stabenow told Politico that all four would meet.

“The savings of the farm bill will certainly be part of the solution to the budget,” said Stabenow, who is also part of those House-Senate negotiations. But she and Lucas have both said repeatedly that the text of any farm bill will be theirs to write.

“The issue is who writes the farm bill,” Stabenow said. “We’ll write the farm bill.”

For all her optimism, the chairwoman gave little ground herself on the contentious issue of savings on nutrition programs.

The Senate farm bill proposes about $4 billion in 10-year savings, compared with the $39 billion in reductions assumed in the revised nutrition title approved by the House in September. It’s a huge gap, but Stabenow insisted that negotiators can’t ignore previously enacted food stamp cuts that went into effect Nov. 1.

Those reductions will reduce spending by as much as $11 billion over the period used by the Congressional Budget Office to score the farm bill. Typically, these are not counted since the savings result from prior actions by Congress. But Stabenow said they cannot be ignored.

“I am counting them,” she told Politco. “That’s real and if (the House’s) objective is to cut help for people, that started last Friday. I do count that. In fairness, that needs to be counted.”

In the same vein, she showed no interest in a compromise narrowing the range of income and asset tests now used by states in judging eligibility for food stamps.

“At this point, what I’m interested in doing is focusing on fraud and abuse—ways to tighten up the system to make it more accountable,” she said. “I’m not interested in taking food away from folks who have had an economic disaster, just as I’m not interested in cutting crop insurance for farmers who have had economic disasters.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the Port of New Orleans Nov. 8, saying that passing a farm bill is the No. 1 way that Democrats and Republicans can increase jobs in the economy.

Helping American businesses grow, creating more jobs—these are not Democratic or Republican priorities, Obama said.

“They are priorities that everybody, regardless of party, should be able to get behind. And that’s why, in addition to working with Congress to grow our exports, I’ve put forward additional ideas where I believe Democrats and Republicans can join together to make progress right now,” Obama said.

That’s when Obama launched into his pitch on the farm bill.

“Congress needs to pass a farm bill that helps rural communities grow and protects vulnerable Americans,” Obama said. “For decades, Congress found a way to compromise and pass farm bills without fuss. For some reason, now Congress can’t even get that done.

“Now, this is not something that just benefits farmers. Ports like this one depend on all the products coming down the Mississippi. So let’s do the right thing, pass a farm bill. We can start selling more products. That’s more business for this port. And that means more jobs right here.”

Obama listed immigration reform and a responsible budget as his second and third priorities.

“We should fix our broken immigration system. This would be good for our national security, but it would also be good for our economic security,” Obama said. “Over the next two decades, it would grow our economy by $1.4 trillion. It would shrink our deficits by nearly a trillion dollars.”

This should not be a partisan issue, Obama said.

“President (George W. ) Bush proposed the broad outlines of common-sense immigration reform almost a decade ago,” Obama said. “When I was in the Senate, I joined 23 of my Republican colleagues to back those reforms. This year, the Senate has already passed a bill with broad bipartisan support.

“So all we’re doing now is waiting for the House to act. I don’t know what the holdup is. But if there’s a good reason not to do it, I haven’t heard it. There’s no reason both parties can’t come together and get this done this year. Get it done this year.”

Democrats and Republicans also should work together on a responsible budget that sets America on a stronger course for the future, Obama said.

“We shouldn’t get caught up in the same old fights. And we shouldn’t just cut things just for the sake of cutting things,” Obama said. Remember, I want to remind you—what’s happening in the deficits? They’re going down. They’re shrinking. They’re falling faster than they have in 60 years.

“So what we have to do now is do what America has always done: Make some wise investments in our people and in our country that will help us grow over the long term. We should close wasteful tax loopholes that don’t help our jobs, don’t grow our economy, and then invest that money in things that actually do create jobs and grow our economy. And one of those things is building new roads and bridges and schools and ports. That creates jobs. It puts people to work during the construction phase. And then it creates an infrastructure for our economy to succeed moving forward.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at ldreiling@aol.com.

Date: 11/18/2013

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