By MITCH LIES
U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., said he is optimistic over prospects Congress will send a farm bill to the desk of President Barack Obama this year.
"There seems to be a new energy that was lacking last time from the leadership and the chair of the (agriculture) committee," Schrader said in the May 1 interview with Capital Press.
Last summer the Senate passed a bill to replace the 2008 four-year measure that expired in September. The House did not act on a bill passed by that chamber's ag committee. An extension of the 2008 bill expires late this year.
Schrader, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said last year's attempt to pass a farm bill was clouded by politics as Republicans were seeking control of the White House and the Senate.
"That didn't happen," Schrader said. "And I think there is a different atmosphere this year."
Schrader said Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., "seems pretty adamant" about meeting a May 15 deadline he proposed for beginning to mark up the bill.
And, Schrader said, the farm bills that passed the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee last year, "look pretty good" for a starting point.
"We have to do a little bit of rejiggering to get the numbers that leadership wants, -- both Democrats and Republicans -- in terms of cost savings, so that will be a little controversial," Schrader said.
Schrader said he will be offering several amendments, including one "making sure the specialty crop title is absolutely protected."
"My biggest job has been to push back and make sure they don't go after the specialty crop title for additional savings," he said.
Another amendment he plans would cap the bill's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts in the $4 billion range, similar to cuts proposed in the farm bill the Senate passed last year.
"The (proposed) idea of taking $28 or $30 billion out of SNAP isn't going to fly," he said.
Schrader said he is considering offering an amendment dealing with forest management that would be along the lines of the proposal he and two other members of Oregon's congressional delegation proposed last year. Last year's proposal would set aside a portion of national forests in Oregon for conservation, while opening up the remainder for timber production.
Schrader said he also is working on an amendment with Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., to establish a national checkoff program for organic producers.
And he's working on establishing a national Christmas tree checkoff program.