MANKATO — Sen. Al Franken thinks the election results and a growing restlessness by farm and nutrition groups will mean a long-stalled farm bill will be passed this session.
The Senate last year passed a farm bill as did a House committee, but the legislation never got to a full House vote.
“I think there’s very good odds. What’s changed is there were many bills that didn’t get taken up in the House (last year) that are now. The elections showed the balance of power wasn’t going to change the way (Republican) had hoped and they even lost some seats,” Franken said of the Republican-controlled House.
The Minnesota Democrat met with about 50 farmers and farm leaders at the Minnesota Soybean Growers headquarters in Mankato on Thursday.
Despite more optimism, Franken said crafting a Farm Bill that satisfies various farm interests is a major undertaking.
“Even here in Minnesota we have competing interests and you have competing interests between agriculture in the Midwest and agriculture in the South. We need conservation and habitat because people want to hunt, but on the other hand there are farmers who want to be able to plant as much as they can.”
Franken is co-sponsor of a farm bill that is very similar to the one passed last year in the Senate with bipartisan support.
On the House side, House Majority Leader John Boehner pledged a farm bill would get done this year.
But Boehner told an Ohio farm group there will be a large fight around food stamps and other government nutrition programs that make up 80 percent of the farm bill. Eligibility for food stamps was “widened in a significant way” several years ago, he said, and now 18 million more Americans are on food stamps now than four years ago.
The Senate version of the farm bill would spend $963 billion over 10 years while the House bill would spend $950 billion. The farm bill expired last year, but a temporary extension keeps the program running until September.
The Congressional Budget Office recently determined that the bills in Congress would save less money than earlier estimated.
The new figures show that the Senate version of the farm bill, which the C.B.O. said last year would save $23 billion over 10 years, would save only $13.1 billion. The House bill would save $26.6 billion instead of the $35.1 billion estimated last year.