The U.S. Senate took the necessary procedural steps to be able to move forward to get the Senate-passed farm bill to conference. By unanimous consent, the Senate sent its five-year farm bill back to the House of Representatives and requested a farm bill conference. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to name the 12 Senate conferees (seven Democrats and five Republicans) in the near future.
Senator Stabenow said, “We are, in fact, now officially sending back our Senate bill to the House and requesting a conference on the farm bill. This is a very important step. As everyone knows, we have been working very hard on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.” The question is how soon will the House of Representatives name its conferees?
When the conference eventually meets there are major differences to be resolved between the House and Senate farm bills. They include:
· Nutrition: The Senate bill includes a nutrition title that cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $4 billion over 10 years. The House bill does not include a nutrition title. This lack of a nutrition title in the House farm bill has garnered considerable attention and caused tremendous political problems. The House Republican leadership is planning on having the House of Representatives consider a stand-alone nutrition bill. The earlier House Agriculture Committee bill cut $20 billion from SNAP over 10 years. In the end, to get a farm bill passed and signed by the president, the farm bill conference report will need to include a nutrition title.
· Permanent Law: The House bill replaces the 1938 and 1949 farm legislation with the commodity title in the 2013 House farm bill. This means the House commodity title would exist forever until Congress decided to reconsider it. The Senate continues permanent legislation (1938 and 1949 farm acts). This is a major issue with a number of agricultural groups. In the past, concerns of having to implement permanent law forced Congress to pass farm bills.
· Commodity Programs: The Senate bill centers on a revenue program while the House continues a more traditional fixed target price program.
· Dairy: The Senate bill contains a supply management program while the House bill does not contain this program.
Questions remain about whether any progress can be made until the House decides how it plans to deal with SNAP and the nutrition title.
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