Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Thursday 09/12/13

Harkin Discusses Farm Bill Prospects

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the Senate's Democratic conferees on future, possible, sometime-this-might-actually-happen conference talks on the farm bill, reiterated Thursday that he thinks House-Senate talks on the farm bill could happen soon.

"I'm hopeful that the House would appoint conferees so we can get together on this," Harkin said, though he noted that most general business in Congress is now delayed because of discussions over Syria. "With the Syria thing that's come up it has sort of put everything on hold."

The lever on the trap door for farm bill talks has yet to be pulled. That could come as early as next week if House leaders opt to bring to the floor a bill spearheaded by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that could cut as much as $40 billion from nutrition programs over 10 years. A bigger debate that could also get in the way could come from the potential Continuing Resolution to continue funding the federal government after Oct. 1. That battle has prompted Cantor to consider suspending a House recess now set for the week of Sept. 23.

Harkin dismissed the idea that there could be another extension of the 2008 farm bill.

"I don't think we'll do any kind of extension of the farm bill," he said. "We'll let the present one expire. Not much will happen right away and hopefully we can go to conference sometime in October and get this worked out."

Harkin noted that if the House passes the $40 billion in cuts to food aid, it would complicate conference talks, considering the Senate approved $4 billion in cuts over 10 years to nutrition programs. Harkin said most observers recognize the Senate is not going to make steep cuts to nutrition programs.

"If they do go ahead and pass this $40 billion cut, it's going to be by a very narrow margin," Harkin said. "I dare say they won't get one Democratic vote. They are going to lose Republican votes on that too. At this time, it's a close question on whether that would even pass. I don't know."

He added, "Maybe if they could bring it up and defeat it, that would be the best thing of all."

Beyond the nutrition title, Harkin said he thinks most of the contentious arguments over the farm bill come from people outside the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Harkin said he thinks the committees would be able to come to terms on difference in commodity programs and other areas fairly quickly.

"I would think in a month we could wrap it up and come to an agreement we can send back to the House and the Senate," he said.

Harkin chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee throughout work on both the 2002 and 2008 farm bills. He chaired the conference committee for the 2008 bill.

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Posted at 11:53AM CDT 09/12/13 by Chris Clayton
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