DES MOINES (DTN)--Staffers of Congressional lawmakers have been working the past few weeks to iron out differences in each chamber's farm bills, in an attempt to speed up the conference committee process. A House Ag Committee staffer, when asked what the staff has been meeting about, told DTN efforts have focused mainly on non-money or policy items of the ten titles that make up the farm bill. The titles include Commodity, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, Rural development, Research, Forestry, Energy, and Miscellaneous.
"We work off of a 'side-by-side' sheet that lists each title," said the staffer, "trying to figure out where the differences are on any given title."
Seth Boffely, a Senate Ag Committee staffer, said, "The goal is to gauge what is going to take the most amount of time once the conferees start meeting... There are a lot of differences between the House and Senate farm bill," he added.
Under the conference committee rules, the conference is permitted to deal only with matters in disagreement between the House and Senate. It may not change language that both have previously approved, nor may it insert a subject not dealt with in either the House or the Senate version of the measure.
Since one chamber cannot require the other to agree to its proposals, the conference usually reaches agreement by compromise. This may involve crafting a provision that contains parts of the two versions or a trade in which the conferees agree to a provision offered by one chamber in return for agreement to one offered by the other.
When a conference completes action on a measure, or as much action as appears possible, it sends its recommendations to both the House and Senate in the form of a conference report, accompanied by an explanatory statement.
Boffely said the staffers will soon be getting into discussions about the money titles, i.e. the Commodity title, before the conference committee meets. "But, no decisions will be made by staffers, only recommendations to the conferees," he said.
The activity behind the scenes of the conference is expected to be just as active as the bicameral meeting itself. "Senior-staff personnel that specialize in certain titles will be meeting simultaneously as the conferees meet on a separate title," said the House Ag staffer.
Rep. Larry Combest, (R-Texas), House Agriculture Chairman, told DTN, "Don't measure the progress of the conference committee by how many times the conferees are sitting around a table.
"Perhaps the House Agriculture committee staffer explained it best. "If a hired hand can feed the livestock, that means the farmer doesn't need to do the chores.
"Now that both the House and Senate have named conferees, the intense meeting is expected to begin sometime soon, according to Boffely. However, the House agriculture staffer said there has been no mention of conferees meeting.