Senate Reappoints Farm Bill Conferees

The U.S. House sent the bill that combined its farm program and nutrition bills to the Senate Monday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid followed Tuesday with a request for a conference committee to resolve the differences between the House bill and the Senate version. He also named conferees - reappointing the seven Democrats and five Republicans first named in August. The Democrats are Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Max Baucus of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado. The Republicans include Ag Ranking Member Thad Cochran, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, John Boozman of Arkansas and John Hoeven of North Dakota. All 12 are members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The reappointment of Senate conferees paves the way for House Speaker John Boehner to name his conferees. Boehner hasn't said whether he will follow tradition and name members of the House Agriculture Committee. Stabenow believes the conference should occur quickly - saying there's no reason they can't sit down this month and get it done. According to Stabenow - there's no excuse not to get it done.

Stabenow admits the nutrition title could be difficult - as the House plan to cut 39-billion dollars from food stamps over 10 years is not even close to what the Senate would accept. Stabenow says she wants to do everything to make sure nutrition is accountable - but also wants to find savings without playing with people's lives.

Another difference between the House and Senate is that the House bill reauthorizes nutrition programs for three years and the farm program for five years. That - if kept in the conference report - could set the programs on a permanent path of separation. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says decoupling the farm program from nutrition programs would mean the House would not pass a farm program. He says the farm program and food stamps were put together in one bill to provide food for the hungry, increase consumption of food, stabilize farm income, create economic activity and provide a reason for urban members of Congress to vote for the farm bill. The Agriculture Secretary says separating the two is bad policy for farmers in his view.

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