By Jerry Hagstom

Forum News Service

WASHINGTON - Three Upper Midwest senators have been named conferees on the farm bill. But the House Republican leadership’s refusal to appoint conferees and a plan for the House to vote on a big cut to the food stamp program means prospects for the bill passing this year have dimmed.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota were all named to the conference committee on the farm bill on Aug. 1, the day the Senate left Washington for a five-week recess.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to name conferees until the House comes back into session in September, and that probably won’t take place until a final decision is made on whether to bring up a nutrition bill that would cut the food stamp program - now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - by $40 billion over 10 years.

That bill would probably remove 4 million to 5 million people from the food stamp rolls. House Democrats have called the vote cruel and pointless and all Democrats are expected to vote against it. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said on Aug. 1 that he is not certain the leadership will find 218 Republican votes for it, but he still hopes Congress can finish the farm bill this year.

The Senate farm bill cuts food stamps by $4 billion over 10 years and the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee would cut the program by $20.5 billion. About 47 million people are now on food stamps at a cost of about $75 billion to $80 billion per year. Republicans say it is too easy to get on food stamps, but Democrats point out that the recession has left many Americans in need of food. Reauthorization of food stamps was made part of the farm bill to give urban legislators a reason to vote for the bill.

The Senate has passed a full farm bill, but the House left out the nutrition title. The two bills have some different provisions that need to be reconciled into a conference report, but the lack of House conferees limits the amount of work the staff of the House and Senate Agriculture committees can do to reconcile the Senate and House-passed bills.

‘Political messaging’

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, both expressed fury at the proposal to make such a deep cut in food stamps.

Peterson said the House leadership’s proposed nutrition bill would kill any chance of passing a farm bill this year.

“There they go again,” Peterson said in a statement on Aug. 1. “Apparently, the Republican leadership plans to bring up yet another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party. Clearly, they have no interest in compromise or actual legislating.”

“Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison-pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year,” he said.

“I’ve repeatedly told these guys, we don’t have to do this. If the House would just name conferees, members can conference the House ‘farm-only’ bill with the Senate’s farm bill during August and produce a compromise for both Houses to pass,” Peterson said.

“Through today’s action, the House majority has clearly shown they have no interest in getting a farm bill done. The American people should be outraged.”

Stabenow said, “Now we are in a position we cannot negotiate. We do not know what the parameters of the bill will be.”

Although she said she did not know the details the nutrition proposal from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Stabenow said she considers the riders such as work requirements that were attached when the bill came up on the House floor to be “really appalling.”

“I know the majority floor leader in the House does not want a farm bill,” Stabenow said. “I know that the speaker would like to get it done,” she added.

“With what is actually happening in the House, I am very concerned,” Stabenow said. “The clock is running and running out on us in terms of a five-year comprehensive farm bill.”

Stabenow also noted that there is opposition to passing another extension of the 2008 farm bill with a continuation of the direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low.

“Enough is enough,” Stabenow concluded. “Farmers and ranchers do not deserve to be treated this way,” she said, adding that neither do people who need temporary food assistance.