Farm bill still a possibility despite shutdown

Based on a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and comments made during a news conference it appears Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believes the farm bill could be included in a larger budget package. American Farm Bureau Federation Senior Director of Congressional Relations Mary Kay Thatcher was given hope by statements Reid made. She explains it appears likely the farm bill may not be able to pass as a stand-alone bill, so the belief that a farm bill can pass by adding it to other bills is good news. The sooner we can pass the farm bill, Thatcher said, the better.

It appears Republicans still want a regular conference and a stand-alone conference report to be considered on the House and Senate floors. What ultimately happens could greatly depend on who Boehner appoints as his farm bill conferees. While he’s expected to appoint conferees shortly, it still isn’t clear if he will follow tradition and name members of the House Agriculture Committee. If he doesn’t, the question is whether those he appoints will be willing to negotiate.

Getting a final conference report will clearly take negotiation on the issue of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Senate-passed farm bill would cut the program by $4 billion over 10 years while the House farm bill would cut the program by $39 billion in the same period. House Ag Chair Frank Lucas has said it will be up to Boehner, Reid and President Obama to settle the size of the cut. If they can agree and farm bill conferees can accept their guidance, he says a regular farm bill conference can work. If not, the farm bill may end up in a larger must-pass package.

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