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Hoeven gives assist as farm bill goes back to House

WASHINGTON -- With a powerful assist from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., convinced the Senate last week to send the farm bill back to the House. The act sets the stage for House and Senate leaders to appoint conferees and hold a conference.

"We are, in fact, now officially sending back our Senate bill to the House and requesting a conference on the farm bill," Stabenow said in a floor speech. "This is a very important step."

In a reflection of the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the Senate, the Senate also agreed to appoint seven Democrats and five Republicans to the conference committee.

Now the pressure will be on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to appoint conferees. Reid appears likely to move quickly, but it is unclear how soon the House leadership will appoint conferees.

The House farm bill does not contain a nutrition title. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Ohio, has said "conversations" between the House and Senate can begin, but that he does not expect the House leadership to appoint conferees until the House figures out whether it can pass a nutrition title of its own.

The Senate's action was highly technical in legislative terms but vital to the fate of the bill. When the Senate passed its farm bill, it sent the legislation to the House, but that bill contained finance measures the House cannot consider because all financing bills must originate in the House.

The House sent its bill to the Senate so the Senate could replace it with the Senate bill, which will mean the Senate bill will have a House number and can be considered.

The Senate's acceptance of the unanimous consent request followed a day in which some Republican senators said they might object to the unanimous consent request, which would have meant the measure would have had to be debated and voted on. Because the farm bill expires on Sept. 30, farm leaders are pushing for quick consideration.

In her short floor speech, Stabenow thanked Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and added special thanks to Hoeven for his help in convincing Republican senators to support the bill.

"This is a very important step as we move forward in what I am very confident, despite the twists and turns, will result in a bipartisan farm bill," Stabenow said. "I want to commend, despite terrific odds and challenges, the chairman in the House and ranking member in the House for their efforts, and I'm confident that working together, we will be able to get this done for the American people."

Earlier, Hoeven had told Agweek that Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., all had raised questions about sending the farm bill back to the House.

Hoeven said Flake and Vitter appeared to be satisfied that their issues had been addressed.

Flake wanted to be sure the direct payments program is ended, Hoeven said, and other senators wanted to be sure the food stamp program is reformed.

Hoeven said Toomey still had concerns, but apparently those were resolved.

In his own floor speech, Hoeven urged his colleagues to support the unanimous consent request. "We need to get going; we need to get this done," Hoeven said.