By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
WASHINGTON -- After a one day delay, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced late Wednesday that the markup on the farm bill will proceed today.
On Tuesday night, Stabenow postponed a markup scheduled for Wednesday.
The decision to proceed today gave credence to the view of Senate sources and lobbyists that the postponement occurred not because southern farm groups and the Minnesota and Colorado corn growers sent a letter urging a delay, but because negotiations were still continuing and because the Congressional Budget Office was still scoring amendments that some senators want to offer.
Late Wednesday, however, another coalition of farm groups including many Midwestern and western state growers, urging markup to move forward quickly.
Meanwhile, calls for quick consideration of the bill also revealed proposed amendments that some advocates want passed in the markup.
Larry Combest, the former House Agriculture Committee chairman-turned lobbyist who organized the letter from the groups urging the delay, said in an interview that even though Stabenow decided to delay the bill a day after receiving the letter, he would not claim credit for the decision.
Combest said farm group leaders and senators were surprised that the commodity title was so different from the proposal sent to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction in December.
"I wish we had that much power. You have too many senators on the committee who were raising issues. This is a perfect example of why this things needs to be vetted a bit more," Combest said.
"There is nothing except positive that will come from this. You are reaching out to people who have a whole lot at stake.," he added.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who worked on the Senate Agriculture Committee when Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was chairman, recalled in an interview that markups were postponed many times during her years in the Senate. Merrigan said she did not view the delay as a bad omen, but added that she hoped the committee would take up the bill as quickly as possible so that Congress will finish it this year.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., called for prompt consideration of the bill.
"As a former chairman of the Agriculture committee, I recognize the challenge of writing a farm bill, but as a farmer, I know that the agriculture community needs policy certainty," Lugar said in a news release.
"Now is the time to press forward with fiscally-responsible reforms for farm and nutrition policy. Hoosier farmers need a good farm bill, not political impasses," Lugar said.
Lugar noted that he has proposed 11 amendments that were set for consideration during the markup. These included amendments to repeal the sugar program, close loopholes in the food stamp program, help Hoosiers, and enable private investment in rural energy.
Lugar also noted that the mark written by Stabenow and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., includes several provisions from the REFRESH Act, a farm bill that he and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., have written.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a news release that his group urges the committee to adopt an amendment sponsored by Lugar and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., "which provides $800 million in mandatory funding for core energy programs."
"These programs are critical for rural development and for helping America become more energy independent," Johnson added.
The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs called upon the committee to adopt an amendment to be offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., that would deny farm subsidies to individuals with taxable income of more than $500,000 and married couples making more than $1 million.
The money saved would be invested in revitalizing rural communities through small business development, beginning farmer programs, value-added agriculture and assistance for small towns in updating water and sewer systems, the center said.
The current bill would deny subsidies to individuals making more than $900,000 and couples with $1.8 million in income.
The center also favors an amendment that it expects Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Nelson and Brown to introduce that would limit crop insurance benefits and premium subsidies for crops grown on native sod or land that a producer cannot verify has ever been tilled.
The National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers both called for quick consideration of the bill.