Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says his chamber won't pass an extension of farm policy this year and is pressuring the House to figure out how to pass a farm bill.
The House rejected its version of a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill last week, with 62 Republicans voting no after Speaker John Boehner urged support. The Senate passed its farm bill earlier this month with support from two-thirds of the chamber.
Reid on Monday urged Boehner take up the Senate farm bill before current policy expires Sept. 30.
"Doing nothing means no reform, no deficit reduction and no certainty for America's 16 million farm-industry workers," Reid said.
Both bills expand farm subsidies while saving money overall and making cuts to the almost $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, which has doubled in cost in the last five years. The Senate bill cuts $400 million a year from food stamps, or half a percent, while the House bill cuts $2 billion annually, or about three percent.
House conservatives wanted even higher cuts, and many of them joined with Democrats who thought the cuts were too high to defeat the bill on the floor. The final vote was 234-195 after the chamber adopted a controversial amendment that would have added additional work requirements to food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Finding a way to pass the bill with divisions in the GOP caucus and little support from Democrats won't be easy, and an extension of current farm law, passed in 2008, could be the most realistic route. But Reid made it clear he doesn't want to do that.
"I want everyone within the sound of my voice — as well as my colleagues on the other side of the Capitol — to know that the Senate will not pass another temporary farm bill extension," Reid said on the Senate floor.
Congress has already passed one extension of the 2008 law after the Senate passed a farm bill last year but the House declined to take it up.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agreed with Reid on Monday that an extension is not good policy and that farmers need certainly for their planting decisions. He called an extension "rewarding failure."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Vilsack said rural advocates in Congress and the administration — including himself — need to do a better job of explaining to reluctant lawmakers why a farm bill is important to the country.
"We don't market what we do and what we mean effectively, so politicians think they can fail to pass necessary legislation and not suffer any consequence," Vilsack said.
Farm-state lawmakers in the House were still talking to colleagues about how to proceed after the bill's decisive defeat. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said after last week's vote that the committee would assess its options, but has not elaborated since then.
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said Friday that he thinks the Republican majority should put the committee-passed farm bill on the floor with no amendments. The amendment to add the SNAP work requirements, adopted just minutes before the vote on final passage, soured many Democrats who were planning to vote for the legislation.
Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs from the food stamps into separate bills. Lawmakers on the agriculture committees have for decades added food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes. But that marriage has made passage harder this year.
Farm-state lawmakers argue that a farm bill is needed to avert crises stemming from bad weather or price collapses.