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New Farm Bill Not Necessarily on House Agenda

An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the Virginia Republican did not make news Wednesday when he said he was “committed” to having a farm bill on the floor during the lame-duck session.

Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore said in an email that her boss’s comments were “similar to comments” made earlier by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and that Cantor “did not specify what” the House would do.

“I’m committed to bring the issue to the floor and then to see a way forward so we can get the votes to pass [a bill],” Cantor said Wednesday, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Cantor’s quote seemed to echo comments made by Boehner in September to the effect that the House would address the farm bill “issue” during the lame-duck. Boehner didn’t say that the House version of the bill itself would be on the floor, which would leave the door open to considering an extension of the 2008 bill.

Cantor made the comments while campaigning and fundraising for Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) seized on Thursday’s report, issuing a press release saying she was “very pleased to hear that Majority Leader Cantor is now committed to bring the Farm Bill to the floor immediately after the election.”

Stabenow and other supporters of the Senate-passed farm program bill have pushed for the House to pass some form of a farm bill as a vehicle for a final House-Senate agreement.

Stabenow’s bill would shave more than $23 billion off the deficit over the next decade, which means some version of it could be used during the year-end negotiations on taxes and spending as an offset to help delay the looming cuts under sequestration.

“It is critical that we are able to finalize the Farm Bill before the beginning of next year when farm programs begin to expire, which would impact milk and food prices for families,” Stabenow said.

The farm bill issue has also turned up in House and Senate campaigns in agricultural states across the country, and farm programs have become more important given the extreme drought that has hit much of the country this year.

For instance, North Dakota Democratic Senate nominee Heidi Heitkamp has criticized her GOP opponent Rep. Rick Berg for not helping to secure Republican votes to bring the farm bill to the floor. The same is true in Iowa, where Republican Rep. Steve King has faced criticism from challenger Christie Vilsack (D) over the House not producing a farm bill. Vilsack is the wife of current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

In Idaho, Cantor said the farm bill did not come up for a vote before the House’s departure for the election because there were not enough votes to support it. Some conservatives continue to push against a big farm bill deal including nutrition programs.

“While it was a conservative victory that the gargantuan, $1 trillion dollar farm and food stamp bill was allowed to expire, we knew that the battle was not yet over,” a blog post from the conservative group Heritage Action said Thursday.

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