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Noem says farm bill nearly done

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

After a long and frustrating wait, Congress will pass a bipartisan farm bill that covers a full five years, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., told reporters Thursday.

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“The basic framework has been agreed to. There are some details to work out,” Noem said. “Knowing it’s coming provides us with certainty.”

Noem repeated the conventional wisdom that a farm bill won’t be passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president until January, but she is confident this drawn-out chapter in farm bill history will close in a positive way.

“This has been the poster child for a messy process,” Noem said. “I am looking forward to making sure that vote happens. ... We know a five-year bill is coming. We are going to have a farm bill that works for South Dakota.”

Noem said lawmakers have sent their policy agreements to the Congressional Budget Office for “scoring,” in which analysts calculate how much programs will cost and how much cuts will reduce spending.

“What we’re waiting for at this point is to get the actual numbers,” Noem said, “so when everybody is placing their final vote on the floor, they really know the details.”

The House is expected to adjourn today or possibly Saturday and not return to work until 2014.

Noem called the delay into the new year “unfortunate” but praised the agreed-upon farm bill for having the most significant reforms of any farm bill “in decades.”

“This eliminates controversial farm programs like direct payments that have been so highly criticized,” she said, also noting provisions to tighten up food stamp eligibility requirements.

She said the bill will include retroactive livestock disaster programs, using language that she introduced as a standalone bill, and said ranchers who lost cattle in the October blizzard will get some payments. Noem said she won’t know exactly what affected ranchers will be eligible for until after the CBO sends back its analysis.

Noem said she hopes there can be a one-month extension of the previous farm bill, which expired Oct. 1 after an earlier one-year extension. She is worried that milk prices could spike without such a move, but Senate leaders have said it is not necessary.

“We would be relying on one individual in USDA to make the right decision. I prefer to have a law in place,” Noem said.