Congressional ag committees take up farm bills

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — It’s spring. Farmers have taken to fields to plant their 2013 fall crops, and congressional agriculture committees are taking another stab at enacting a new farm bill.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on May 14, by a vote of 15 to 5, approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. The bill was written by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the agriculture committee, and ranking member Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

The House Committee on Agriculture was meeting May 15 to consider its version of the farm bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, which was drafted by Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the agriculture committee, and Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking member on the committee.

The bill passed by the Senate agriculture committee and that will be submitted to the full Senate was similar in all major features to the farm bill passes by that body last year. The bill proposed by Representatives Lucas and Peterson was similar to the one passed by the House agriculture committee last year, but the House leadership, amid all of the partisan bickering on virtually all issues last fall, never scheduled a vote on the legislation.

Both bills aim to replace the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, which expired on Oct. 1, 2012, but was extended until the end of the current fiscal year as part of the budget agreement.

Both bills would reform how government supports producers. Direct payments made to producers under the past few farm bills no matter what they planted or even if they planted nothing at all, would be ended. Both bills would tighten the reins on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Act, although spending cuts envisioned by the House bill, $20 billion, greatly exceeded those proposed by the Senate committee.

Senator Stabenow and Senator Cochran maintained the Senate bill would yield $23 billion in spending cuts on food and agriculture programs, including cuts made due to the sequestration. Representatives Lucas and Peterson said their farm bill would produce $40 billion in spending cuts, again including the cuts from the sequestration.
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