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Young expects farm bill by end of the year

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 08/14/2013 8:55 AM

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AMES, Iowa —The differences between the commodity titles of the House and Senate versions of the farm bill aren't that significant, says Bob Young, chief economist and deputy executive director of public policy with the American Farm Bureau Federation

"The real challenge is how we find the head of the pin on nutrition levels," said Young at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in the Scheman Center. "The differences between the House and Senate on the commodity title and most other titles are so small that chairman Lucas and chairman Stabenow could bring their staffs together at 10 a.m. and have a deal by 5 p.m."

The nutrition block is what caused the first version of the farm bill to fail in the House, Young said.

He said it's interesting going back through the June 20 vote where the House voted down the comprehensive farm bill and then on July 11 approved a farm bill without a nutrition title. The failed House bill proposed $20.5 billion in nutrition cuts. The Senate bill has $4 billion in nutrition program cuts.

"We had 62 Republicans who voted against final passage of the bill," Young said. "Not 15 minutes before, 59 of them voted for the Southerland Amendment, which imposed a work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. So 59 voted in favor of the amendment and then voted against final passage. What was it that they needed?"

Seven of the 62 were either current or former committee chairmen.

"They were part of the leadership," Young said. "Congressman Cantor, House majority leader, voted against it. When that's what the leadership is doing, why are you surprised when the rank and file bolts. Chairman Frank Lucas had been on the floor not five minutes before the vote pleading with his membership to vote with him to help get this bill through to the committee, and still couldn't hold them."

If this had been a parliamentary system of government like in France or Belgium, that vote would have brought down the government, Young said.

"The leadership took a piece of legislation to the floor and was not able to get it passed," he said. "Their own party did not have faith in the leadership. That's why the importance of that second vote went way beyond anything that had to do with agriculture. That second vote had everything to do with leadership. Had the House leadership worked the first vote the way they worked the second vote, we wouldn't be in this mess we're in today."

The Senate has stricken the House language, inserted its bill, sent it back to the House and has the authority to appoint conferees.

No one knows if the House will appoint conferees without a nutrition title, but there have been informal conversations underway between Senate and House ag committee staff, Young said.

"It would not surprise me if we end up with a piece of legislation with nutrition program spending cuts something over $4 billion, could be a lot over, and you get back to the House floor with 130 to 140 Republicans and an appropriate number of Democrats supporting the bill to get this done," Young said.

He's optimistic that a bill will be passed yet this year although they will be lucky to get a bill to conference committee before the August recess.

"It's one thing for folks to be bomb throwers, and it's another thing for folks to get to the stage where they have to govern," Young said. "I think we have a few folks in the House who are finding out that it's time for them to have to govern. It's a very different position from where they campaigned from."