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Jerry Hagstrom, Forum News Service, Published August 02 2013

Peterson upset with House refusal to appoint farm bill conferees

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 Thursday, the day the Senate left Washington for a five-week recess.

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 –officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – by $40 billion over 10 years.

House Democrats have called the vote cruel and pointless and all Democrats are expected to vote against it.

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 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 bills.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., were both upset 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. “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.”

Peterson said 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.

“I’ve repeatedly told these guys, we don’t have to do this,” he said. “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.”

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.”