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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published September 25 2013

Heitkamp doesn't think farm bill will pass before deadline, blames partisan differences

WASHINGTON – Congress won’t approve a new farm bill before the old one expires Sept. 30, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Wednesday.

“It seems clear to me that we will not be securing a new farm bill before the deadline,” Heitkamp said in a conference call with the news media.

The U.S. farm bill is the centerpiece of national farm and food policy. Congress voted late last year to extend the 2008 farm bill for nine months; the extension expires Sept. 30.

The U.S. House and Senate have approved their own versions of a new five-year farm. But the two versions have major differences, especially on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

The Republican-controlled House still must appoint members to a conference committee to meet with Senate members to reconcile those differences.

Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a supporter of the Senate version, said the Senate is ready and willing to go to conference, but the House continues to delay.

“It doesn’t seem too a high priority” for House leadership, she said. “Hopefully, the House will actually get their act together and they (House leadership) will appoint conferees and we will move to conference very quickly.”

Without a new farm bill, farmers will struggle with year-end tax planning and to make plans for their 2014 crops, she says.

Farm group leaders have worked for nearly two years to pass a new farm bill. Heitkamp said the Senate has done its part, by passing bipartisan legislation, but that the House remains mired in partisan differences.

“Something that should never be partisan has become partisan,” Heitkamp says. “It’s extremely frustrating.”