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Friday, July 19, 2013

What’s Next For The Farm Bill?

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Last week House Republicans passed their version of the farm bill, stripping the food stamp program from the bill for the first time in decades.

NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith joins us to explain what’s next and what the future of the farm bill could look like.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. The federal farm bill runs out in September, and so far, there is no compromise in Washington to extend it. Food stamps make up most of the bill, and they will be the main sticking point after House Republicans passed a version of the bill last week that strips out the assistance program from it for the first time in decades. Joining us now with more is NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith. And, Tamara, what happens now? What is the fate of the farm bill?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, in theory, the next step is a conference committee. Last night, the Senate took the House bill, striped out the House version, plunked in the Senate version, which does contain nutrition programs and food stamps and sent it back to the House, saying we want a conference committee. Now, the question is when - and I think the question is really when the House will decide to appoint conferees and start the committee process.

The House, however, also is working through - starting to work on a nutrition bill because they don't actually want to get rid of food stamps or not have any legislation on it. They just couldn't agree on it as part of the broader farm bill. So they're going to start working on that, but the ag committee chairman described it as pushing a big boulder up a tall hill to try to get agreement on that.

HOBSON: And there is some optimism coming out of Washington. Let's listen here to Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan.

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW: This is a very important step as we move forward in what I am very confident despite the twists and turns will result in a bipartisan farm bill.

HOBSON: So, Tamara, is that wishful thinking, or is that for real?

KEITH: I think that's for real. The reality is that that Debbie Stabenow, the senator at the head of the ag committee in the Senate, and Frank Lucas, the head of the ag committee in the House, they agree on a lot of things. They actually agree that they want food stamps in the farm bill. They agree on more things than they disagree on. And yesterday, they actually got together, the heads of - the top members of both the House and Senate committees got together and started laying the groundwork for compromise.

So they want to get it done. The outstanding question is sort of how you build the coalition of votes in the House where Democrats are very concerned about cuts to food stamps, and the more conservative Republicans are very concerned that that there aren't enough cuts.

HOBSON: And, Tamara, the bill has historically been an easy compromise between Republicans and Democrats. Why is it so different this time around?

KEITH: It really is that issue of the liberal Democrats not wanting any cuts at all to food stamps, and conservative Republicans wanting a lot of cuts, wanting more cuts, and trying to find that coalition where you can actually get enough people to support it has been a real struggle this time around.

HOBSON: And if they can't reach a solution before September when the bill runs out, what happens? Are we going to see a short-term fix?

KEITH: Well, so Harry Reid, the head of - the Democratic head in the Senate, has said no more short-term fixes, no more kicking this can down the road, to use Washington speak. He also said that last year, and then they did a temporary extension.


KEITH: So who knows? Though, the current feeling is that they really don't want to do a temporary extension. They just want to get it done. Some of these lawmakers have been working on this very bill for, like, three years, and they just want to get it done.

HOBSON: NPR congressional...

KEITH: Now, if they can't come up with...

HOBSON: Sorry. Tamara, we got to let you go. But NPR's congressional...

KEITH: Got to go.

HOBSON: ...correspondent Tamara Keith, thanks a lot.

KEITH: Thank you.

HOBSON: And still to come, we're going to talk about the wildfires that are raging in Southern California. Stick around. It's HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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