Senate to take up farm bill in May
WASHINGTON -- Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Saturday that she plans to hold a markup of a new farm bill in May, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled that he intends to bring it to the Senate floor that same month.
Stabenow told the Senate Rural Democratic Summit that she intends to hold a markup in May, but she did not give a specific date. Earlier, Stabenow told senators she intended to hold a markup in April, but that has not happened. Congress is now on a week-long vacation.
The House Agriculture Committee has scheduled a markup on May 15.
Stabenow also told the summit, a gathering of county government officials and people invited by individual senators, that she wants to make sure a new farm bill law is in place by Sept. 30 when the current extension of the 2008 farm bill expires.
Reid also said he wants the Senate to finish the water resources development bill and the farm bill in May.
"The Senate must complete work on job-creating water resources legislation and a farm bill during the May work period so we can move forward on the immigration debate in June," Reid said, according to a Senate transcript.
A Democratic Senate aide confirmed that Reid was saying he intends to bring the bill to the floor next month.
Reid was also emphatic about the importance of moving on to the immigration bill, which contains a provision dealing with farm worker immigration.
"We have a bipartisan bill coming to the Senate with a system to fix our broken immigration system," Reid said. "The only way get things done around here is senators working together. The immigration bill is a good example of that."
At the summit, other senators said they were determined to finish the farm bill.
"I'm still feeling good we're going to get this done," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "We just can't continue to operate this way," she said, referring to the extension.
Klobuchar said the senators are trying to keep the new farm bill as similar as possible to last year's bill, even though the Congressional Budget Office has issued a report that last year's bill would have reduced spending by $23 billion over 10 years but the same provisions this year would save only $13 billion.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he thinks farm programs have not put farmers on the land or even kept them there, but that crop insurance is important as a safety net.
'Single greatest purpose'
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a freshman, said her "single greatest purpose" in running for office was to get a farm bill passed.
Heitkamp said she will consider the situation "a failure if in September we have to do another extension."
Noting that she once spent a summer picking five acres of cucumbers for her grandfather so they could be marketed, and that the average farmer in North Dakota now has $1 million "in the ground" each year, Heitkamp said she thinks farmers deserve help with crop insurance and price supports.
Heitkamp also noted that she will support the sugar program because she wants to be assured that the nation will have a sugar supply.
Heitkamp and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., both said they think an agreement can be reached on a commodity title that benefits both northern and southern farmers.
Pryor noted that he could not vote for the Senate bill last year because it did not do enough for southern crops, but hopes to support the Senate bill this year. Heitkamp said she thinks Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., will present some new ideas.
The summit was organized by the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee and co-chaired by Sen. Mark Begich, the chairman of the committee, and Pryor.