CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – AGRICULTURE
June 14, 2012 – 4:07 p.m.

Stabenow Remains Hopeful About Progress on Farm Bill

By Alan K. Ota and Niels Lesniewski, CQ Staff

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said Thursday she hopes a deal can be worked out to allow votes on several dozen amendments next week to clear the way for completion of the $969 billion farm bill.

Stabenow said in an interview there was a good chance that negotiations between leaders of both parties would lead to a final vote on the bill (S 3240) next week. “There’s a good possibility. We’re still determining the package and the way to go. . . . There could be a couple dozen,” Stabenow said, referring to the number of potential amendment votes next week.

Her comments signaled that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his leadership team were trying to work out a deal along the lines of a framework suggested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who called on Wednesday for votes on about 40 amendments in succession.

Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., a critic of the bill, said Thursday he had seen a list of potential amendment votes and did not believe it would satisfy Republicans. “I saw a list that had one of my amendments on it. That’s not going to be enough,” said Chambliss, who added he would insist on votes on several of the amendments he has offered. “I like to see us debate this for several weeks.”

Reid said Thursday morning that Coburn’s idea of 40 amendment votes was a potential model for proceeding on the farm bill.

“He [Coburn] indicated he thought it was a good idea to have a number of amendments and just start voting on them. So I hope we can get there. We can’t do all 250 amendments that are out there, but we can do a lot of them,” Reid said.

In announcing that he did not expect any further votes for the week, Reid remained optimistic about completing work on the measure.

“We hope that we can have common sense prevail,” he said. “It’s so important that we get this done. There are issues that we are going to vote on, one of which Sen. Kerry has talked about. There are . . . relevant amendments, we have a lot of them. We’ll agree to vote on those. We’re trying to also work out the non-relevant amendments and we’re not there yet.”

The amendment offered by Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to which Reid alluded would repeal a provision in the 2008 farm law (PL 110-246) that granted the Agriculture Department authority to regulate catfish. Kerry contends that provision hinders the business of fishermen and catfish processors in his state. His effort is backed by John McCain, R-Ariz.

“We’re still trying to settle the non-relevant, non-germane amendments and the number of those that would be allowed by the leadership,” said Pat Roberts of Kansas, ranking Republican on Agriculture.

“I think we can accept several but when I say ‘we’ — that’s the decision of Leader Reid. So we’re just trying to get settled first and then get to the germane amendments and, you know, we’ll approach those as they come.”

Despite those efforts, McCain and other critics of federal farm policy have been unhappy with the handling of the amendment process.

“Americans will hear speeches about spending reductions and cuts to farm subsidies, and I concede there is some of that in this bill. Unfortunately, so far we’ve failed to have an open and fair amendment process,” McCain said. “I have several amendments that I would like to have considered, and like my colleagues, we’ve been prevented from doing so.”

Stabenow, D-Mich., said the Senate could temporarily move off the farm bill next week to take up other matters, including the pending flood insurance reauthorization (S 1940). “It could come up in-between, and we could go back and forth,” Stabenow said, referring to the flood control measure.