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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Farmers Rally Near Capitol, Urging Passage of Stalled Agriculture Bill


A few hundred farmers gathered near the United States Capitol on Wednesday to press for the passage of the stalled farm bill, and they were greeted by an unusually bipartisan slate of lawmakers who are also agitating for action.

“American wants us to work together to get it done for rural America,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to the cheers of scores of farmers. Ms. Stabenow's enthusiasm was equaled by a Republican senator, Jerry Moran of Kansas, who chided members of his own party in the House for refusing to bring their own committee's farm bill to the floor. “Don't sit on the sidelines waiting for something to happen !” Mr. Moran implored.

Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill, and the House Agriculture Committee came up with a similar bill, with deeper cuts to farm and nutrition programs.

But House leaders declined to take up their own committee's measure, citing a lack of votes, nor did they bring the Senate version to the floor, perhaps fearing passage largely with Democrats and Republicans from states that have large farm communities.

Just before recess in August, the House pressed through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.

Should the current law expire at the end of the month without action - something Democrats say they prefer over the one-year extension for which some Republicans are now clamoring - the Farm Bill would revert to the 1949 version of the law.

Conservatives in both chambers dislike the farm bill generally, and would like to see it cut back much further than House or Senate committee members propose.

Many Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs in the House bill, and some also dislike the Senate bill, which cuts less deeply in its changes to the nutrition programs.

“Agriculture has always been bipartisan,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But the extreme element of the House doesn't believe,” in a farm bill at all, she said. While some Democrats “don't want reforms,” she added, “The anti-reformers are hiding behind the extreme elements.”

Just outside the Capitol on Wednesday, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation held a modest rally to press for the approval of a bill. “They should just get it done,” said Lynn Belitz, a farmer from Nebraska who attended.

Some Democra ts are now trying to pressure House leadership to allow a vote through something called a “discharge petition” which, if signed by 218 members would force a floor vote.

“I'll sign it as soon as it's available,” said Representative Kristi Noem, a freshman Republican from South Dakota. When it was pointed out to her that this would likely greatly upset her party's leaders, she replied: “I take my orders from my district.”