A fight renewed: Back to the drawing board on farm bill

MARSHALL – Trying to shrug off his own frustration with the farm bill situation, U.S. Sen. Al Franken on Friday highlighted some of the positives of the nine-month extension and said passage of a new five-year bill before the extension expires is possible.

“When we passed a five-year bill in the Senate it had very bipartisan support, there was a lot of agreement,” Franken, D-Minn., said in a teleconference with Minnesota media. “(Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman) Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), (Minnesota 7th District Congressman) Collin Peterson and others were all working together to have something ready for the fiscal cliff negotiations. I imagine we could do (a new bill) a lot sooner; normally we don’t do anything it seems until it has be done.”

Franken said he will work to get a five-year bill done this year and to attain funding for some of the programs that didn’t get mandatory funding in the extension, such as areas in energy, conservation and disaster relief.

He said Peterson, too, will work on a five-year bill provided he gets reassurance from House leadership that any package will get a House vote, which it didn’t this time around.

“We’re going to be working very hard to be sure we get another bipartisan bill through the Senate and hope this time it won’t be blocked in the House,” said Franken.

The farm bill extension includes an overhaul of dairy programs which will keep the price of milk from going up and retains direct payments, a subsidy that costs $5 billion per year and is paid to farmers whether they farm or not. Wind production and biodiesel production tax credits were also included in the extension. Many programs were renewed but without any funding.

“Direct payments survived in the House, but I think we all believe direct payments should be history,” Franken said. “The crop insurance piece makes sense. But our original bill would cut $24 billion from the deficit, and I think we’re going to go back to a very similar bill to what we had passed in the Senate. Getting appropriations for anything is going to be hard; that’s why I’m not happy at all with the extension.

Franken said the inability of Congress to pass a five-year bill speaks to how divided thing currently are in Washington.

“We have two very different philosophies, and we have a wing of the other party that didn’t vote for this bill,” he said. “That’s just the nature of things right now. If any one of us were asked to put a package together, one that could’ve cut the deficit and would’ve reflected our philosophies of how things work, every one of those would be different.”

Franken said with sequestration, the debt ceiling and dealing with spending limits all coming up in the near future, and essentially at the same time, Congress has to figure out were cuts should be made and what the revenue situation is. He said Vice President Joe Biden has informed the caucuses that the Obama administration is seeking $2 worth of spending cuts for every dollar of revenue.