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Stabenow requests conference committee on farm bill

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 07/30/2013 10:56 AM

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WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow has requested a conference committee on the farm bill.

The House passed their farm bill 216-208 on July 11. The bill doesn't include the nutrition title.

The Senate passed their bill on June 10 by a vote of 66-27. It does include the nutrition title.

In a conference call on July 15, Stabenow said she's ready to move forward to put together a final agreement. There's no reason for delay, she said.

"We want to get to work and get this done," Stabenow said. "The longer the House waits before sending something to us, the less time we have before this extension runs out."

Stabenow said she doesn't support an extension of the farm bill that continues big subsidies.

The farm and nutrition bill passed by the Senate contains reform and cracks down on waste, fraud and abuse.

It's an important coalition to have agriculture and food policy in the same bill, she said. There is broad support for keeping the two together.

"We could not pass (a farm-only farm bill) through the Senate, nor would the president of the United States sign that kind of a bill," Stabenow said.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program doesn't cease to exist if not included in the farm bill because it's funded through the appropriations process, yet issues around waste, fraud and abuse are tackled through policy in the farm bill.

Stabenow said she's read so many comments about food banks and how wonderful they are. They are funded through the nutrition title. Nutrition education programs, school lunch programs and meals on wheels are included in the nutrition title. The nutrition title of the farm bill is about much more than SNAP, she said.

The repeal of permanent law, also contained in the House-passed farm bill, is another concern.

Some wonder if farmers have lost their influence in Congress.

Stabenow said everyone who cares about the farm bill needs to continue to work with Congress to show there's strength in rural America. The fact that the House didn't take up the farm bill helped the Democrats win some Senate races, she said, and she expects that impact again if the House doesn't get its act together.

Everybody in small towns is counting on the House to understand the important role rural America plays not only in the nation's economy, but also in the nation's way of life.

"I hope there's an outcry if we haven't even been able to get to conference by August," Stabenow said.

Differences in the bills passed by both chambers can be worked out, she said.

The basic framework the Senate used in writing their farm bill goes all the way back to the failed supercommittee, which was three years ago.

The farm bill feels like the movie "Groundhog Day" — every day she gets to do the farm bill again.