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GOP farm bill plan falters

ST. PAUL – A Republican plan designed to pass a farm bill appears to have failed.

Reuters news service reports that GOP leaders have not been able to produce enough votes from their members to pass a bill funding farm programs for the next five years.

The GOP idea had been to split the bill into two, one funding agriculture programs and one funding nutrition programs such as food stamps. The two issues had been combined in one bill since 1977 because neither may receive enough votes on its own.

The top House agriculture Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, had predicted that the Republican plan lacked votes.

The farm bill, including food stamp funding, failed on June 20, but Peterson said that is the basic bill that needs to reach the House floor again, just without a provision that could lead to fewer people getting food stamps. That provision cost the bill Democratic votes.

“The bill we had is what the farm groups wanted, what the conservation groups wanted, what rural development groups wanted,” Peterson said. “Not everyone got what they wanted, but it is something that everybody supported.”

With Wednesday’s news that the GOP plan faltered, chances are greater that Congress will not be able to adopt new farm programs this year and, like last year, will end up passing a one-year extension of existing programs.

Lawmakers are months late in writing a new farm law, divided on how much funding should be cut from farm subsidies, conservation programs and food stamps for the poor. Without action by Sept. 30, farm subsidy rates will revert to a 1949 "permanent" law that could, among other things, lead to a doubling of milk prices at the grocery store.

"I cannot recall when it has been more difficult to move a farm bill forward," said analyst Mark McMinimy of Guggenheim Partners.

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill in early June. It calls for smaller overall cuts in spending than the House bill.

Farm lobbyists said Republican House leaders may try to build support for another attempt at a split bill. Alternately, they could re-tool the defeated bill and present it for a vote. An extension of current law is a third option.

Reuters news service contributed to this report.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.