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Stabenow Pushes House GOP on Farm Bill

The Senate’s top Democrat on farm policy called on supporters of agriculture programs Friday to push House Republicans from rural districts to encourage leadership action on a new farm bill.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she is likely to move forward in February with a markup of a reauthorization of the agriculture policy law, which is currently operating under an extension included in the recent fiscal cliff deal. But any Senate effort would again be for naught, she said, without cooperation from the House.

“People across America who care about agriculture, who care about farmers and ranchers and local food systems and jobs in rural America are going to have to stand up and get engaged in this and hold people accountable to do the right thing,” Stabenow said in an interview. “Otherwise, we won’t get a farm bill.”

Stabenow is backing an effort by Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, ranking Democrat of the House Agriculture Committee, to refuse to participate in a House Agriculture Committee markup without assurances from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that the bill will get floor time.

Peterson sent a letter Friday to House GOP leaders outlining his frustration with the process so far.

“I see no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake the fool’s errand to craft another long-term farm bill if the Republican Leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered,” Peterson wrote. “You and your Leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 Farm Bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies, or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you.”

During the interview with Stabenow, which will air Sunday on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program, the Michigan Democrat renewed her criticism of the farm provisions in the fiscal cliff agreement, which were spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The language did not extend several farm policy programs or provide disaster assistance. It also would continue a system of direct payments to producers that the farm bill passed by the Senate in the 112th Congress would have curbed.

“For the life of me, I cannot believe that we’ve seen disaster assistance bills go through the House and Senate that did not include agriculture. We were told it would be in the extension, and then to pull that out and leave ranchers, farmers, cherry growers in my state, left hanging is something that I find outrageous,” Stabenow said.

Stabenow and others had pushed for months to include the farm programs in a broad package aimed at averting the fiscal cliff, but the agreement ultimately reached between the White House and McConnell took a different form.

“I vehemently oppose what he did on agriculture, but I think he also does deserve credit for … being willing to reach out and work with the White House,” Stabenow said about McConnell.

With spending barely addressed in the deal, Republicans say that debate will come in conjunction with the upcoming fight over increasing the federal debt limit. Asked if there would be a chance to use a new farm package as part of spending reductions to accompany that measure, Stabenow said she thought it would be a good idea. However, the position taken by the House may make that difficult.

“Common sense would say that the Congress and the White House should jump at the bipartisan effort we put together that has a minimum of $24 billion in savings — in cuts,” Stabenow said. “It wasn’t just slash and burn. We looked at every page. We eliminated 100 different programs that either don’t make sense anymore or don’t work or are duplication.”

Stabenow cautioned against eliminating direct payments outside the context of a broader farm bill because budget scoring rules might prevent reallocating some of those funds to other farm and nutrition programs.

“Because we’ve had more payout in crop insurance, they’re going to be reassessing more spending there which will relate then to what we can do in other areas. So, there’s going to be some changes that relate to how much is available in total,” Stabenow said. “If you then eliminate a large investment like direct payments without doing it in the context of the whole farm bill, so that you’re being able to reinvest some dollars in a way that makes sense that supports farmers, it’s not best for agriculture.”

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