John Hageman, Forum News Service, Published September 30 2013
Cramer optimistic House, Senate will hammer out farm bill differencesWASHINGTON - As the nation’s capital came closer to a government shutdown Monday, work on a farm bill was showing signs of progress.
On Saturday, the House voted to link a bill cutting almost $40 billion over the next 10 years from the food stamp program with the farm bill. Those bills are usually paired together as one bill, but the House split them earlier this summer.
House members who will negotiate a final farm bill with the Senate could be named this week. But that will still come after the bill expires Tuesday amid partisan debate over cuts to nutrition assistance programs.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Monday that putting the bills back together was a procedural step to start the conference committee process with the Senate and hammer out differences in the bills. He said splitting them in the first place helped garner Republican votes.
“It was the strategy that, at this point, looks like it worked,” Cramer said. He added, however, that he would have preferred to reintroduce the original farm bill that failed in June, which included more than $20 billion in food stamp cuts over the next 10 years.
“If we pass a farm bill that both the Senate and the House agree to and the president signs into law, how we got there will matter less than the fact that we got there.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called the linking of the farm bill to the nutrition assistance bill “an important step forward,” but said it was disappointing that the farm bill would expire today.
“I hope the House will quickly appoint its members to the conference committee which will work with the Senate to negotiate a compromise farm bill,” she said in a statement.
The House’s food stamp bill differs greatly from the Senate bill passed in May, which cuts the program by $4.5 billion over the next decade. House Republicans have argued that their bill includes needed reforms to the program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
In an editorial submitted to the Grand Forks Herald on Monday, Heitkamp called the House’s proposed cuts to SNAP “a reckless direction to take, but it also jeopardizes passage of a farm bill in Congress, as such stark cuts won’t pass the Senate.”
But Cramer predicted the final farm bill will include cuts to SNAP that would be in the $8 billion to $12 billion range over 10 years, which is closer to the Senate bill.
“And I think that’s fine,” Cramer said. “Part of the advantage for the House in having a larger number is that it gives us on the negotiating table a little more leverage on some of the other things that are important.”
Cramer said Speaker of the House John Boehner told him Saturday he would name conferees for the farm bill this week. Whether that happens in light of developments on the federal budget and looming shutdown remains unclear.
But Cramer said he remains optimistic that a farm bill could be passed before major effects on farmers, like commodity prices, are felt at the beginning of the year.
“I don’t want it to linger any longer than it has to because it creates anxiety,” he said.