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Heitkamp, Cramer see farm bill agreement coming soon

Maintaining her assurance that a new farm bill will become reality soon, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she will tell attendees at a trio of agriculture-related gatherings this weekend that a bill will become reality before year’s end.

Basing part of her optimism on briefings she gets “sometimes hourly” from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Heitkamp said she is increasingly sunny on a positive farm bill outcome.

“Every day, as I get my updates, I get more optimistic,” Heitkamp said Thursday. “There’s been a lot of movement on both sides. I think chairwoman Stabenow is somebody who has proven she knows how to put together bipartisan support for a very important issue for this country. I think, after the horrible conditions and behavior (in Washington) in October, people are ready to get to work and get things done.”

Heitkamp made her comments in advance of scheduled appearances today at the North Dakota Farmers Union’s annual luncheon in Minot and Saturday at the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in Bismarck. Heitkamp will also host an agriculture trade roundtable discussion today in Bismarck that includes Michael Scuse, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.

A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Heitkamp has said for weeks that she expects a comprehensive version of bill to be ironed out and passed by House and Senate committee members before Jan. 1. The previous bill expired Sept. 30, causing angst among many in North Dakota agriculture circles and the state’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who echoes Heitkamp’s sentiments.

“We’re at the point now where things are changing almost hourly,” said Cramer, who is scheduled to address the state Farm Bureau meeting today. “The conference committee met Wednesday night, late into the night, and met again (Thursday) morning. It’s one of those situations where, I think, they find some agreement on a couple of things and then, the next time they meet, they find some disagreement and they back up a little.

“It’s sort of a typical Washington process where you kind of wish they’d hurry up because we have an idea of where things are going,” he said. “But you still have to go through the negotiation process and the debate. I feel pretty confident that we’ll get something done by the end of the year.”

Further cuts in food stamp spending have been widely reported as being a major sticking point with farm bill conference committee talks, but the general consensus seems to be that a finished product will be completed soon.

“One of the sticking points right now is that gap on food stamps,” Cramer said. “The Senate, so far, hasn’t yielded a single penny from the $4 billion (in cuts) they want. There are also some issues being debated, for example, with Title I differences where people are considering space acres or planted acres in the Title I insurance program. There are some nitty-gritty details that need to be figured out.”

Cramer said that by the second week of December, when both the Senate and House will be in session after a brief Thanksgiving break, he expects a conference report to be ready for review by both chambers.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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