Now that the House has passed a farm bill, the Senate is eager to go to conference.

“We’re anxious to go (forward) and I’m very concerned that process begins to move this week,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, during a Monday (July 15) press conference.We’ve got only six legislative weeks before the current farm bill expires. Since we’re in session only four days a week, that makes 24 days counting today. So, there’s not a lot of time. There’s enough time to do it but we’ve got to get started in putting together the final agreement. There’s no reason to wait or delay the process anymore.”

Whether the result of Stabenow’s prodding or clearing up clerical issues, the House farm bill, which passed on a party-line vote, is expected to reach the Senate on Tuesday (July 16).

“I’m willing to take whatever the House gives us and … I’m confident we can put something together that will be able to get bipartisan support,” said Stabenow. “That’s what it will take – not just bipartisan support in the Senate, but also in the House.”

Meanwhile, agriculture leaders from both chambers have already begun talks. “I’ve talked to (Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee) and had a good discussion. I’ve talked to ranking member (Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson). They’re both anxious to get to conference, as well.

“I think we were all surprised … after the House voted on their bill on a partisan basis. We fully expected to receive in the Senate right away. In fact, we were intending to leave the Senate floor open that night to be able to receive the House bill so we could go through the procedures needed to go to conference.

“When (House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) announced they weren’t going to send us the bill, I was pretty stunned. It appears, at this point, that the (House) leadership wants to try to pass a Republican-only Nutrition Title.”

Lucas, said Stabenow, was unable to provide an answer as to why the House leadership had still not sent over the House farm bill. If only the agriculture leaders from both chambers would be left alone to hash out a new farm bill, “we could get this done. I feel that strongly, even today. We need to have the leadership of the House supporting (Lucas and Peterson) because they know how to put together a bipartisan bill.”

Stabenow also questioned House strategy considering the late date. “Why in the world, since they passed the rest of their farm bill with only Republican votes, didn’t they attach their Republican Nutrition Title bill last week and send it over? I couldn’t tell you what they’re doing. I can tell you that, with what’s already been passed, we’re ready to begin the (conference) process. Time is of the essence…

“We want to get to work and get this done. The longer the House waits before sending something to us, the less time we have before the current extension (of the 2008 farm bill) runs out. I’m not going to support an extension that leaves out some important pieces of farm policy and continues big subsidies we’ve all agreed should be eliminated.”