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House, Senate committees to mark up farm bill May 14-15

WASHINGTON — The 2013 farm bill will take center stage May 14-15 when the Senate and House agriculture committees mark up different versions of the stalled five-year bill.

With the 2008 farm bill expiring Sept. 30, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has pledged to give farmers certainty and pass the bill before the next deadline.

Most but not all programs, including specialty crop research funding, are being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through a nine-month extension.

The Michigan senator released the draft, The Agriculture Reform, Food & Jobs Act of 2013, on May 9 in advance of the May 14 markup. Like last year's version, the Senate draft would make $23 billion in cuts to agriculture programs over 10 years, cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and eliminate direct payments.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has made more changes to his version, The Federal Agriculture Reform & Risk Management Act of 2013, to save nearly $40 billion by reportedly making deeper cuts to benefits for SNAP participants, which is likely to fuel the ongoing partisan battle over the food support program.

Produce industry trade groups will be pushing to make sure funding is secured for the Specialty Crop Block Grants and other key programs as the bills wind through the legislative process.

Is the latest attempt to pass a farm bill likely to succeed? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he planned a floor vote perhaps as early as this month before a vote on immigration reform.

While it was the House that failed to schedule a floor vote last time, House leadership appears to be looking at the same schedule as the Senate.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said in a recent memo on legislative priorities that the farm bill would be taken up this summer after it passes the House Agriculture Committee.