AGRICULTURE:

House, Senate panels to mark up farm bills

Last year when the House Agriculture Committee marked up its version of the farm bill, debate stretched for 15 hours before the panel agreed at about 1 a.m. to report the bill favorably to the House floor.

Committee members say they don't expect another marathon session when the panel takes up its 576-page bill Wednesday.

"I think it'll be a shorter markup than last time," ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said. "We'll hold everything together."

Only about 20 percent of the committee's members this year are new to the panel, unlike last year when about half the panel had never worked on a farm bill before. And after slogging through last year's markup and the ensuing back and forth over the measure that stretched over months, last year's freshmen are now "seasoned sophomores" on farm legislation, said Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).

"They went through all the debates and discussion," Lucas said, "and I think they understand, having watched the challenges of trying to get to the floor last time, we have to do our business in an orderly fashion, we have to achieve a consensus."

The House farm bill released Friday would cut nearly $40 billion over the next decade. Some programs, including livestock disaster aid and crop insurance, would see increases, but reductions would include $22 billion from traditional commodity subsidies, $20.5 billion from nutrition assistance and $6.9 billion from conservation. Although the cuts are steeper than in last year's farm bill, much of the policy remains the same (Greenwire, May 10).

Also making the committee's job easier this year is that fact that the bill released Friday already includes most of the amendments that were passed during last year's markup, according to Republican staff.

One amendment that was not included, however, was one by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would prohibit states from banning agricultural goods from other states that are produced under different production methods. The amendment was meant to stop states, especially California, from enacting laws requiring free-range eggs and pork that would affect agricultural production in other states because of cross-border commerce.

The measure has pitted livestock industry groups against animal rights and environmental groups against industrial-scale farming.

Peterson said he wasn't sure that proposal would get enough votes, but he said he has been helping King write it.

"After going through this and being lobbied by all these egg people and every other damn thing going on, I think it's the best solution myself," Peterson said. "I'm tired of these states doing this crap."

If the committee reports the bill Wednesday, Lucas said, House GOP leadership has promised him floor time in June.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised the farm bill would be a priority this month. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will mark up its 1,102-page bill Tuesday.

The Senate panel wrapped up its markup last year in just five hours. The committee makeup is largely the same this year, though the bill includes some substantial policy changes in the commodity title section to appease Southern senators who voted against the bill last year. It's unclear yet how those senators will respond to the new bill.

Overall, the Senate farm bill would reduce spending by $23 billion over the next decade, according to Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Like the House bill, the Senate version incorporates many amendments that were passed during both last year's committee markup and the floor debate on the measure.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate version would require farmers to comply with basic conservation measures in order to receive crop insurance subsidies for highly erodible land and wetlands (E&ENews PM, May 9).

Capitol Hill veterans say they expect either a manager's amendment or an amendment from a committee member Tuesday that would further solidify an agreement reached last week between farm and conservation groups to support conservation compliance (E&E Daily, May 7).

Schedule: The Senate markup is Tuesday, May 14, at 10 a.m. in 328-A Russell.

Schedule: The House markup is Wednesday, May 15, at 10 a.m. in 1300 Longworth.