Senate Ag Committee begins Farm Bill debate

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The Senate Agriculture Committee launched into work on the Farm Bill on Tuesday with members divided over not just policy, but whether they should even move forward at a time of economic uncertainty.

Democrats are pushing for fast action to aid farmers hurting from low prices. Meanwhile Republicans say there is no need to hurry and complained about the lack of spending estimates for each section of the bill. The total spending estimate is $175 billion for 10 years; however; the proposal would only last five years.

Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman said he intends to work through Friday this week and finish up committee action by the end of next week, with floor action possible if Congress stays in session through December.

“We will finish this thing next week unless there are deliberate attempts to slow this down,” said Harkin.

So far the committee has approved sections of the bill dealing with forestry and energy including several new initiatives such as a grant and loan program to help set up farmer-owned renewable energy cooperatives to produce electricity.

Eight senators on the 21-member committee, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota favor completing a new farm bill law this year. Four Republicans have said they are willing to wait until next year as the White House has urged. While the views of the remaining nine members on timing of the new bill are not clear.

However, with Congress in its final weeks of the current legislative session, there remains a daunting amount of work to be completed in order to have a new Farm Bill before the end of the year. For a new farm policy law to take effect, the Senate must write the bill, reconcile it with a vastly different House bill that was passed last month and send the final version to the president.

Des Moines Register, Reuters



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