By Jacqui Fatka
House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders indicated they're nearing the mark up of this year's farm bill which may happen in May. Last year the Senate moved its bill first but this year leaders indicate it may be the House, as normally the case, that will first attempt to bridge the differences in comprehensive farm legislation.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said he expects to see a mark-up in the House after the first week of May. On the Senate side, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said she's "anxious" to start the official mark-up of the bill by the end of April, but hasn't completed negotiations on how to address concerns of Southern producers.
Senate Ag Committee ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) denied reports that he's holding up the markup on the Senate side and added he "won't move to postpone it." Cochran adds a new dimension to the Senate farm bill discussions following last year's clear cooperation between former ranking member Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.).
Peterson conceded the House still has its differences on the bill as leaders struggle with coming up with savings when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored savings of last year's farm bill less favorably in an update issued earlier this year.
Stabenow said she will still try to achieve the $23 billion in savings as proposed last year. The Farm Bureau updated its policy recommendations Monday and they too targeted savings at $23 billion.
Peterson said the hang-ups remain in Title 1 commodity programs, dairy policy and food stamps. Peterson explained that although food stamps received a lot of the heat last year for the farm bill not getting passed, it was largely politics that got in the way of a final deal. Peterson is a supporter of changing the categorical eligibility requirements that allow states to set the poverty levels at which individuals can qualify for the federal food assistance.
Although there is much discussion about reducing fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Peterson challenged that isn't a big issue.
"There is five times the amount of fraud in crop insurance than there is in food stamps," he said. He added that he told his counterpart Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) that he "wants to be able to have lots of say in whatever we end up doing" on food stamps and it doesn't want it turned into an ideological war.
He said of the 47 million individuals on food stamps, 10-12 million of them are receiving a mere $10-$20/month which doesn't help those individual families really but does put a fiscal constraint because of the large number who fall into the eligibility.
Last year there was several who thought the farm bill would move as part of sequestration or budgetary packages because of its savings. However, Peterson downplayed any idea of moving the bill in that fashion this year and said there will be no grand bargain on budget measures.