Harkin Optimistic Budget Deal Will Clear Way for Farm Bill Action

Bob McArthur, of Marion, harvests soybeans on Neal Horning's farm in Marion on Satuday, Oct. 4, 2008. Horning has been growing soybeans on his farm for 14 years. (Amanda LaRae Larkin/The Gazette)

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By Katie Stinson

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Sen. Tom Harkin is optimistic that when the dust settles on the budget showdown, House-Senate farm bill conferees will be able to hammer out a deal.

"It doesn’t hit real hard ‘til the end the year, so we have time on that,” Harkin, a member of the conference committee, said Wednesday.

It appears work on an agreement will be delayed.

The conference committee was to have met next week, but the House and Senate will be in recess through next week after voting to re-open portions of the federal government that have been shutdown because of the budget showdown.

The House and Senate are miles — and billions of dollars — apart on the farm bill. It passed the Senate in June on a bipartisan vote.

The House passed the farm bill last month, but without funding for food stamps and other nutrition programs.

The Senate cut $4 billion from nutrition programs. The House cut nearly $40 million over 10 years.

Its leadership has indicated the Senate will have to raise the cuts to at least $12 million to get House agreement. Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has indicated he favors a smaller cut.

Harkin has insisted that the House will have to come close to the Senate figure rather than split the difference.

House leadership has indicated it will address nutrition funding in a separate bill.

Harkin said the Senate version included overall savings of $23 billion, “so we’ve done our job.”

The disagreement over nutrition funding could affect farm programs, which make up a fraction of the overall cost of the farm bill.

Iowa 4th District Republican Rep. Steve King also is a farm bill conferee.

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