WASHINGTON — Enough is enough.
The tone that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie
Stabenow, D-Mich., used was one her children might be familiar with — that of a
mother fed up with her children’s shenanigans.
“Frankly, enough is enough,” said Stabenow in a media
conference call with reporters.
Ideally, Stabenow planned to bring good news to reporters on
the Aug. 1 call about the “Farm Bill Path Forward.”
“When we originally set up this call, I had planned to be
talking with you about our path to pre-conference, if not formally conference,
the farm bill to come back in September and get it done,” she said.
However, that intention was thwarted when House Republicans,
under the leadership of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., introduced their separate
nutrition bill that would trim $40 billion over 10 years from nutrition programs
and would add drug testing and work requirements to qualify for some nutrition
“It’s now put us in a situation where it’s going to make it
harder to get a farm bill done. I know that the majority floor leader in the
House does not want a farm bill. He’s made it clear from the beginning with
everything he’s done,” Stabenow said.
However, she emphasized that others in the House continue to
work for a farm bill.
“I do feel that the Speaker, (John Boehner), would like to
get this done. I know that the leaders, certainly (House Agriculture Committee)
Chairman (Frank) Lucas and Ranking Member (Collin) Peterson, would like to get
this done, but with what is actually happening in the House, I am very concerned
at this point,” she said.
Time is not on the side of lawmakers when they return from
their August recess. Lawmakers bugged out of Washington on Aug. 2 and won’t
return to session in both houses until Sept. 9.
“The House is in session for nine days in September, and the
clock is running,” said Stabenow, adding that the Senate would be in session for
five weeks starting Sept. 9.
The deadline on the current extension of the 2008 farm bill
is Sept. 30.
Stabenow also expressed doubt that lawmakers on both sides
of the aisle and in both houses would vote for another extension.
“Certainly, there are those in the U.S. Senate and I know
there are those in the House, as well, that will strongly fight any extension
that includes direct payments,” said Stabenow, who said one such objection will
come from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
“I think this is a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off,”
Stabenow questioned the motives of Cantor in putting up a
nutrition bill that likely wouldn’t pass in the House and certainly not in the
Democratic-controlled Senate, whose farm bill version cuts $2.4 billion from
“I don’t understand the thinking in the House leadership
when they’re talking about putting forward something that I’m not even sure can
pass the House, certainly cannot become law and just creates another barrier to
our getting a farm bill done,” she said.
Stabenow appeared to be marshalling the troops when she
called for House lawmakers to stand up and speak out for a farm bill that could
have a chance to move.
“Everyone that cares about agriculture in the House of
Representatives needs to stand up and indicate that they are tired of this and
they want for us to have an opportunity to go to conference and get this done,”
At least one House member did just that.
Within an hour of the Stabenow press conference, Rep. Cheri
Bustos, D-Ill., expressed her disappointment at the action of the House leaders.
“I’m extremely disappointed by the continued politicization
of the farm bill by Republican leadership in the House. The farmers I met with
back home in Illinois are sick and tired of the games being played by Washington
politicians and are thirsting for the certainty and predictability of a
bipartisan five-year farm bill. I’ll repeat what I have said all along — both
sides need to put the country first and come together to move this process
forward,” she said.
Stabenow emphasized that an extension may not be as simple
as many think.
“I think the biggest thing is whether or not we could even
get an extension passed. Certainly the extension passed last year leaves out
many things we’ve all said are priorities to fund and funds things that we’ve
all said are a waste of taxpayer dollars. The top of the list are direct
payments, and we’ve now voted twice in the Senate to eliminate direct payments,”
she said. “The House needs to appoint conferees, we need to sit down and we need
to get this done.”
Later in the day, Stabenow firmly put the ball in the
House’s court as she appointed Senate farm bill conferees, herself; Ranking
Member Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Sen. Michael
Bennet, D-Colo.; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Sen. Amy
Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.; Sen.
Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.; and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.