Farm Bill’s odyssey nears an end

The authors of a farm bill conference agreement expect a coalition of centrists to speed passage of the sprawling measure on the House floor today over the opposition from some livestock interests and liberal Democrats. The deal likely marks one of the last big bipartisan collaborations in an election year and would end lengthy efforts to renew agriculture and nutrition programs. Over in the Senate, lawmakers will advance a more limited bipartisan compromise that would limit federal flood insurance rate increases.

Today in the Senate: The chamber resumes debate on a motion to proceed to a bill (S 1926) that would delay federal flood insurance rate increases. The chamber resumes debate on a motion to proceed to a bill (S 1926) that would delay federal flood insurance rate increases. Meets at 10 a.m. with a vote possible when post-cloture debate time on the motion expires at noon.

Today in the House: The chamber is expected to approve a conference report to accompany a five-year bill (HR 2642) that would set price support and other policy guidelines for federal agricultural programs. Meets at 9 a.m.

Today in the House: The chamber is expected to approve a conference report to accompany a five-year bill (HR 2642) that would set price support and other policy guidelines for federal agricultural programs. Meets at 9 a.m.

Today at the White House: President Barack Obama begins a campaign-style tour touching on themes in his State of the Union address with stops in Lanham, Md., and West Mifflin, Pa. He overnights in Milwaukee.

ROSY PROSPECTS FOR FARM BILL: Congressional leaders and the heads of Agriculture committees in both chambers are predicting quick enactment of the new five-year farm bill, despite grumbling from some livestock interests and liberals upset about cuts to nutrition aid.

Following today’s anticipated House passage, the Senate is expected take up the measure later this week when it finishes the flood insurance bill. Democrats in both chambers expect significant support from their party now that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, would be reduced by $8 billion over 10 years instead of the nearly $40 billion in cuts over a decade proposed by House Republicans.

The deal would eliminate $5 billion in direct payments to farmers but expand crop insurance and create two new subsidy programs that could, in some years, pay farmers more than they would have received under the 2008 farm law (PL 110-246).

A bitter dispute over dairy policy was solved when Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and her House counterpart, Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., devised a compromise that included a new plan for the Agriculture Department to buy up dairy products when producers’ margins fall below $4 per hundredweight.

Meatpackers and some livestock groups remain angry that the bill does not repeal or overhaul the country-of-origin regulations that have been challenged by Mexico and Canada at the World Trade Organization. However, Stabenow and Lucas have pledged to address the issue later.

We’ll be watching for any last-minute complications that could change the outlook for today’s House vote, and if a significant number of Republicans withhold their support because nutrition aid cuts aren’t steeper.

AMENDMENT DEAL ON FLOOD BILL: Under an agreement announced Tuesday evening, the Senate will consider seven amendments — three of them from Republicans — and then move to a final vote on the flood insurance bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., presented the agreement before senators walked to the House for the State of the Union address.

The most significant amendment is a substitute offered by Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., who opposes the four-year delay in most rate increases under the measure.

Though the Senate voted 86-13 to advance the bill Monday, the bill still is generating controversy. Louisiana Democrat Mary L. Landrieu rebuked the administration Tuesday for voicing misgivings about the way the measure could further erode the financial position of a flood insurance program that’s already $24 billion in debt and reduce its ability to pay future claims.

We’ll be listening to the debate, and for any new details about an ongoing flood insurance affordability study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on which many lawmakers insist rate hikes should hinge.

APPROPRIATORS MAY NOT NEED BUDGET: House and Senate appropriators may pre-negotiate the spending levels for the 12 annual fiscal 2015 discretionary spending bills instead of waiting for Congress to pass a budget resolution.

Such a move would build on the collaborative effort that spawned a fiscal 2014 omnibus (PL 113-76) but would also represent a rebuke to House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who’s said he plans to advance a budget resolution this spring.

The decision rests with Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., her House counterpart Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and House and Senate leadership, and would break with tradition in the name of making the appropriations process more predictable after years of dysfunction.

December’s budget deal gave appropriations a potential jump on next year’s action by setting a new top line of $1.014 trillion for discretionary spending for fiscal 2015. The deal also set caps for domestic and defense-related spending at $492.5 billion and $521.4 billion, respectively.

We’ll be tracking whether the idea of expediting action triggers a turf battle with Ryan and other budgeteers, as well as what effect the administration’s decision to not release its budget request for fiscal year 2015 until March 4 has on the appropriators’ plans.

NEW CURBS ON OBAMA ORDERS: Obama’s State of the Union vow to work around Congress when legislative compromise isn’t possible is buoying prospects for a House Republican bill (HR 3857) that would allow lawmakers to contest executive orders, presidential signing statements and other unilateral actions before a three-judge panel.

The measure introduced earlier this month by Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., is expected to be a prominent topic when the House Republican Conference huddles at its retreat in Cambridge, Md., starting today. It would allow either chamber of Congress, with a 60 percent supermajority vote, to mount an expedited court challenge to executive actions it sees as a violation of language in the Constitution’s requiring that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Republicans have already criticized Obama’s decisions not to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (PL 104-199) in court and to delay the employer insurance mandate in the 2010 health law despite a clear deadline set out in the statute. Obama used Tuesday’s address to highlight another decision to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.

We’ll be following how eagerly the GOP embraces the idea of using the courts, instead of the appropriations process, to curb contentious executive actions, and if Republican leaders bundle the bill into a broader legislative response.

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