Efforts to tie the Farm Bill to negotiations over avoiding the “fiscal cliff” might be well-intentioned, but unlikely to go anywhere, according to Nebraska’s two United States Senators.
Some farm-state members of Congress see an opportunity to move the stalled Farm Bill and to help federal debt talks by tying the two together.
Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican, says he understands why it is being talked about, but doubts it can be pulled off.
“But I think that’s a bit of a Hail Mary pass. I’m not convinced that’s going to happen,” Johanns tells reporters during a conference call. “I’d love to see a farm bill done by the end of the year, but again, I think trying to figure out how to get it done and then capture the savings for the fiscal cliff seems to me to be a very tall order.”
The Senate approved the Farm Bill. The House Agriculture Committee approved its version, which has never come to the floor of the House for debate. It has sat in limbo ever since.
Some suggest the Farm Bill could be a key in deficit reduction talks, because the version that passed the Senate would save $23 billion over the next 10 years. Johanns says the House is pushing for more cuts and savings could grow to as much as $35 billion.
Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, says the suggestion is intriguing, though likely not practical.
“I’m not poo-pooing it. I’m just saying that there’s an awful lot of discussion, a lot of suggestions and they’re all in that form,” Nelson tells reporters during his conference call. “Thoughts and suggestions; there’s nothing crystallized, there’s nothing that has been decided and what are we sitting on, three weeks?”
Both Nelson and Johanns suggest there simply isn’t enough time to add complications to talks about extending the Bush-era tax cuts and avoiding automatic, deep budget cuts due to take effect at the end of the year. Those talks have stalled as President Obama insists that tax rates rise on those making $250,000 a year or more and House Republicans insist on extending the full range of tax cuts.
Johanns doesn’t dismiss the proposal to tie the two together.
“Well, I think it’s serious, but I think we’re running out of time,” Johanns says. “If this were mid-August, it would be a very serious proposal.”
Nelson says that at some point adding pieces to legislation to attract votes becomes counter-productive.
“Because there are a lot of things there that we don’t want to try to attract some people and their votes and, so, if that happens it will be a mixed bag and might be pretty hard to support given where things are,” according to Nelson.
Both Nelson and Johanns serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
AUDIO: Sen. Mike Johanns reacts to suggestion that farm bill be tied to fiscal cliff. [1:25]
AUDIO: Sen. Ben Nelson discusses the suggestion. [1:15]