WASHINGTON, D.C., (DTN) -- House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said late Wednesday that he and the other agriculture committee leaders have reached an "agreement in principle" on the farm bill, but there are more details to be worked out.
"I am excited about the progress that has been made. We've reached an agreement in principle, but we've got more work to do. I'm committed to delivering this important win to rural America," Conaway said in an email to DTN.
Conaway's statement was important because Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had all issued statements earlier in the day indicating agreement while Conaway remained silent.
After a hearing Wednesday morning, Roberts and Stabenow told reporters that that they are closer than ever to finishing the farm bill conference report.
They noted that the congressional leadership has settled the issue of what, if any, forestry provisions will be included in the bill. They also said the Congressional Budget Office still has to figure out how much the various provisions will cost. The overall bill including nutrition provisions that make up most of the spending is expected to cost about $900 billion over 10 years.
Noting that he had said Tuesday "we're close," Roberts said that now "we are very, very close."
Stabenow said she agreed with Roberts, and added that it is "helpful" that the congressional leadership is in favor of getting the bill done before the legislative year ends.
The Senate and House top leaders -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. -- resolved the forestry question Tuesday evening, the senators said. The issue had been bumped up to the leadership level because the issues were broader than those over which the agriculture committees have jurisdiction.
Roberts said that there was not time to write a major forestry provision, and that forestry would be "a minimum bill." Stabenow noted that forestry has sometimes been handled outside the farm bill.
Neither of them was willing to say whether forestry would be handled in the farm bill or in separate legislation. They were also unwilling to go into any other specifics such as whether the question of payment limits on farm subsidies has been settled.
Members of the mostly Republican Congressional Western Caucus had been pushing for inclusion of House-passed provisions that would make it easier to clear forest floors and to thin forests, but environmentalists said those proposals would lead to questionable logging practices. Stabenow said Monday that the bill could not pass the Senate if the House provisions were included.
Early in the day, Erik Wasson of Bloomberg News tweeted that House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., "says forestry dispute in farm bill worked out overnight. House GOP still objecting to other aspects of deal. Says he is ready to vote on farm bill and can bring most Democrats to yes."
Later in the day, a Peterson spokesman told DTN, "We're very close and very encouraged."
Later in the day, Roberts said it would be premature to describe the deal as final, because "there's still some things out there that people have to agree on. We're not at a place where I can say that there's full agreement," Politico reported.
At their meeting with reporters, both Stabenow and Roberts said that the process has been typical for farm bills.
"This is called the legislative process," Stabenow said. "It is no different than any other year. Without an extension it's a very big success."
Asked what they would want to be known for in this bill, Stabenow said "getting it done with no extension." (The 2014 farm bill expired Sept. 30, and if a new bill is not passed by Dec. 31 Congress would need to pass an extension to avoid problems in the dairy industry.)
Roberts said that writing a farm bill is "like pushing a rope." He also recalled that in 1996, when he chaired the House Agriculture Committee and wrote the Freedom to Farm bill that "remade" farm policy, he took the bill to then Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who praised the bill and then said "here are the changes" that would have to be made.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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