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In midst of a shutdown, hope remains for farm bill

By Jerry Hagstrom

WASHINGTON — The government shutdown has diverted attention from writing a new farm bill, but there has been movement toward a conference between the House and the Senate on the bills they have passed and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has raised the possibility of including the farm bill in a larger budget deal.

0 Talk about it

On Sept. 30, the House sent the Senate a bill that combined the House’s separately passed farm and nutrition bills. On Oct. 1, Reid quickly got unanimous consent of the senators to reappoint the conferees he had appointed earlier and send the House a message requesting a conference. Those actions left the next step, the appointment of House conferees, up to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Rep. John Hoeven, RN.D., said Friday he thinks that could happen this week.

As National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson put it in a letter to Boehner, “The fate of the farm bill is now in your hands.”

Johnson added, “This is an opportunity for you and the House to demonstrate that Congress is still able to get things done. With the budget and debt ceiling discussions looming, the farm bill may be the very best opportunity for any major, forward-looking legislation to pass this year. Our country’s family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, consumers and hungry citizens are depending on you.”

On Oct. 2, Reid sent Boehner a letter proposing that the House pass the Senate resolution to reopen the government to be followed by the large-scale negotiations on budget policies, Reid said, “You and your colleagues have repeatedly cited these fiscal issues as the things on which we need to work. This conference would be an appropriate place to have these discussions, where participants could raise whatever proposals — such as tax reform, health care, agriculture and certainly discretionary spending like veterans, national parks and NIH — they feel appropriate.”

Boehner rejected Reid’s proposal, but the next day at a news conference, Reid followed up on his one-word mention of agriculture by saying, “The farm bill’s hung up. We’ll talk about that.”

Meanwhile, a House GOP aide said the House wants a regular conference and that House and Senate agriculture committee aides have been meeting even though Boehner has not yet appointed conferees.

“The farm bill has hit snags, but it is not hung up today,” the aide said.

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