Posted at: 10/18/2013 11:50 AM
Updated at: 10/18/2013 4:13 PM
By: Jennie Olson
Fresh off helping to break the political stalemate that shut down the federal government, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Friday she's optimistic that Congress will pass a long-stalled farm bill this year.
The Minnesota Democrat will sit on a House-Senate conference committee that meets for the first time Oct. 28 to start trying to craft a compromise package that would govern farm and food policy for the next five years. President Barack Obama on Thursday listed the farm bill as one of his top three priorities for passage by year's end.
Deep differences between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate over food assistance programs are the main reason the farm bill is more than a year late and the country is operating under a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that just ran out. The Senate's version cuts food stamps by $4 billion over 10 years while the House is seeking $40 billion in cuts. There are also significant differences over the structure of crop and dairy subsidy programs.
During a visit to a Second Harvest Heartland food bank warehouse, Klobuchar told reporters she thinks it was no coincidence that House leaders finally named their conference committee members last weekend.
"The country just got really, really angry at some people who are being obstructionists, and they're just crying out for people to get things done," she said.
Another reason Klobuchar said she's hopeful is that Congress needs to find significant savings if it's going to pass a long-term budget. The Senate's farm bill includes $24 billion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, so she said that should be an incentive.
But she acknowledged that bridging the large gap on food stamps in a way that can pass both houses won't be easy. Obama has said he won't accept cuts as deep as the House passed, and the senator declined to say what she thinks the magic number for a compromise might be.
"Negotiating on TV, in front of the press, I think we've learned over the last three weeks that is not the best way to handle things," she said.
Besides Klobuchar, two other Minnesotans will serve on the conference committee, Democratic U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz.
Klobuchar was joined by Kevin Papp, president of the conservative-leaning Minnesota Farm Bureau, and Doug Peterson, president of the liberal-leaning Minnesota Farmers Union. They agreed on the importance of funding the nutrition programs that make up the largest part of the bill's spending, and said producers need the bill to pass soon to give them the certainty they need to plan for the future.
Dave Nomsen, a vice president of the conservation group Pheasants Forever, also urged action, saying farmers can't enroll in conservation programs that preserve wildlife habitat until the farm bill is finished.
Second Harvest Heartland CEO Rob Zeaske said his group supports the farm bill because it ensures a safe, healthy and robust food supply for everyone.
Klobuchar pointed out that if Congress fails to act by the end of the year, the country will revert back to the farm bill of 1949, which she said would cause milk prices to double. She said it also lacks language to govern crops such as soybeans and has no provisions for conservation and energy programs.
"We would like to get this done and get it done fast," she said.
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