Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas, who is not a member of the House-Senate conference committee, discussed the plan in a telephone press conference with reporters from his office Wednesday.
Calling the House offer “yet another reasonable compromise,” Berry, a Democrat, said farm-state congressmen are more than exasperated by the lack of progress by farm bill conferees and that most blame the Senate Democratic conferees for using delaying tactics to hold up passage of the bill.
If the Senate rejects the latest compromise, said Berry, “then the plan is to go to the House floor (Thursday), pass the compromise bill as the House bill and send it to the Senate. We feel like we can get it to the floor of the Senate and it will pass there.”
Berry said the House has, “literally used every legislative mechanism at our disposal,” to try and get the Senate to budge. There is Senate opposition to compromise from both side of the political aisle, he said.
“We’re doing everything we can to make this happen. I know our farmers are in most difficult circumstances.”
Berry said he hopes farmers have a concrete idea of what a new Farm Bill will offer by the end of the week.
Following are reporters’ questions and Berry’s responses:
Q: House agriculture leaders are going to make yet another compromise offer today (Wednesday). If the Senate won’t take it, the House negotiators are prepared to stop negotiating?
A: It’s my understanding that the offer has already been made. The Senate was given the offer either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. There is a House conferees members-only meeting that’s taking place as we speak (Wednesday afternoon). The expectation is that in that meeting or at a later meeting today, the Senate will either accept or reject the latest offer.
In the event the Senate rejects a very reasonable offer, the House plan is to take it to the House floor (Thursday), pass it and send it directly to the Senate.
Q: What are some of the details of the latest offer?
A: I’m hesitant to give any details, but it’s very close to what was offered by the House on April 18.
Q: Has there been any more tweaking on payment limits?
A: There may be some but I don’t think they’ll be significant.
Q: Given the lateness of the date, the House feels this is the only alternative?
A: It’s beginning to look that way. The situation could be rated as desperate. We’re to the point that we have to do something to move this along.
Q: Could you characterize how the White House has worked for or against this bill?
A: This is the third farm bill I’ve been involved with…I have never seen a significant piece of legislation that had so little input from the executive branch.
Q: Are there assurances that House Republicans will allow a vote (Thursday) if the Senate rejects the latest offer?
A: I’ve not been told that. But knowing House agriculture leaders as I do, they don’t make idle threats. I would assume they have that agreement. I can’t say enough about Chairman Combest and ranking member Mr. Stenholm. They’ve handled this in a statesman-like manner.
Q: If the House passes and sends a bill to the Senate, what happens then? Can Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle stop that from ever getting onto the Senate floor?
A: I’m hopeful the Senate will accept a House version if it’s sent to them. The Senate has disappointed me many times in the process, though.
One of the things I’m most concerned about is giving anyone any false encouragement or expectations that this will bring a new farm bill. In this arena, it’s never a done deal until it’s a done deal. I don’t want anyone making an economic decision based on some false expectation. I want to be very careful with that.
I don’t think we’d pass a House version if we didn’t have the votes in the Senate to bring it to the floor. I don’t think our leadership would put themselves in such a position.
If a bill is sent to the Senate, we’d ask the Senate to pass the exact same bill. That would allow the bill to go through without a conference. Clearly the conference is broken down.
Q: Could you comment on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and how it’s affected the Farm Bill?
A: The most regrettable part is most of the information on their website is grossly exaggerated or hasn’t been presented in an honest way. Clearly people that didn’t like farm programs in the first place were given some fodder, some talking points to demonstrate why they don’t like farm programs.
I think the issue that fails to be understood by many members of Congress – and certainly by groups like the EWG – is that farming programs aren’t a social issue.
What farm programs are about is food security. We must approach it that way. We wouldn’t even think about doing to national defense what they’ve attempted to do with farm programs.
If we don’t have the ability to feed ourselves, we’ll have huge problems. People like the EWG don’t understand how fragile our food production is, how long our farmers have been working on the brink of bankruptcy and how most of them are fed up with it.