WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Senators will take a careful look before writing a new U.S. farm law as doubts rise if they can finish work before an election-year gridlock in Congress strands the bill, said the chairwoman in charge of the legislation.
“It’s not about rushing,” said Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow on Tuesday in impromptu comments.
Farm policy experts say the odds are 50/50 for enacting a farm law this year. The House of Representatives would also have to approve any changes such as sizable cuts in crop and conservation subsidies and the scope of the so-called farm bill is vast, from farms and biofuels to ag exports and food aid.
“Obviously, this is the top priority for me … It’s important to do the best job we can.”
Stabenow said her committee will use February, and possibly longer, for information-gathering hearings. “Beyond that, we’ll see how much more we have to do,” she said, declining to suggest when bill-drafting would begin.
It was Stabenow’s first outline of farm bill action this year. Some analysts set the end of May or the start of July as the point when legislative action will stall ahead of the November elections.
There is discord among U.S. farm groups on shape of the new law although they believe a guaranteed $5 billion a year subsidy will end. Traditional subsidies may be replaced by an insurance-like program focused on farmer revenue.
Last fall, Stabenow and other Agriculture Committee leaders drafted a farm bill, with $23 billion in cuts, for inclusion in a deficit-reduction bill. But a “super committee” could not agree on the overall bill. Stabenow said the draft as well as eight farm-bill hearings last year provide a good starting point for work this year.
“If something’s going to be done before the election, it has to be done fairly soon,” said Iowa Sen Charles Grassley, an Agriculture Committee member, earlier on Tuesday.
Posted by Haylie Shipp