Fight for Farm Bill Still Bipartisan, But Geographical Divide Remains

A bipartisan group of senators have sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for passage of the farm bill before the end of the year. According to the senators - the Senate-passed farm bill should be included in an end-of-the-year legislative package. In the letter dated Friday - the senators wrote that the difficulty of enacting a farm bill before the end of this Congress grows with each passing day. They continued that Congress must do the responsible thing and pass a full, five-year reform farm bill. As such - they ask the Senate leaders to consider folding the Senate's strong bipartisan bill in any year-end package. The letter - organized by Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus of Montana and North Dakota's John Hoeven - was signed by 33 senators. Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts did not sign. Stabenow and Roberts have reportedly made a compromise offer to the House Ag Committee that was rejected by Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson as inadequate.

The USA Rice Producers Association is pointing out that those senators who signed the letter to Reid and McConnell were from northern states - and say the Senate farm bill is unfair to the South. In fact - they state the bill is tilted toward northern interests at the expense of rice, peanut and other farmers in the South. They go on to call it strongly discriminatory from a geographical standpoint. The rice producers cite the Congressional Budget Office in suggesting the Senate bill would reduce the safety net for rice producers by more than 64-percent.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson is calling for the House and Senate to negotiate the commodity title of the farm bill and work to find a compromise. He said if the Senate version is forced on everyone - it will leave a lot of bitter feelings. According to Johnson - a bill shoved down someone else's throat is not helpful long-term to the industry.

But some of the senators who did sign the letter in support of moving the Senate-passed farm bill are defending their position. Baucus said the farm bill is a jobs bill - and said there is no excuse to put rural jobs on hold any longer. Hoeven said the Senate's farm bill would not only help farmers and ranchers - but also save 23-billion dollars toward the deficit.

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