Farm bill work a tough challenge for Sen. Boozman

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 120 views 

He won’t be on the ballot in 2014, but U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has plenty on his plate at the moment.

Boozman, who’s in the middle of his first term in the Senate, was recently tapped to serve as one of 12 conferees on the farm bill conference committee. The bipartisan group will work to reconcile the differences between farm bill legislation passed by the Senate and House.

“The farm bill is not only important to Arkansans, but it’s important to the whole country,” said Boozman in a live interview with KNWA Tuesday morning (Aug. 20), adding that the bill’s passage is more “about stability” than anything else.

“If [farmers] don’t know what the rules are going to be for the next five years, it’s very difficult for them to make the plans, hire the help they need – get the bank loans they need.”

Here’s the situation: The Senate passed a farm bill in June authorizing funding for commodities and nutrition programs, 80 percent of which went towards food stamps. The House-passed bill, on the other hand, only authorized funding for commodities programs, making it the first time since 1973 that food stamps failed to be included in the farm bill.

For Boozman and his fellow conferees, this will be the toughest debate. The conference committee will have to reconcile these approaches into one bill that can pass both chambers on the way to the president’s desk. Therein lies the problem. A compromise in which the committee favors a robust food stamps program will certainly pass the Senate, but not the House. However, if they move forward with deeps cuts to the program, the bill’s chances of getting out of the Senate are slim to none.

But Boozman remains positive. He believes all 12 conferees are eager to find a compromise, but admits the route in which to get there is a bit blurry.

“I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do it,” said Boozman. “This is not a Republican or Democratic thing, with the farm bill, it’s all about regional agriculture, making sure that you have a program – not one-size-fits-all, but puts the safety net in for all of our farmers.”

The committee has until Sept. 30, less than 6-weeks, to come up with a viable compromise before the current extension of the farm bill expires.

As for 2014 – Boozman, who ran a nationally covered campaign of his own in 2010, already sees a big difference in the race between U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.

“I jumped in very late in the race in January [2010], but this thing has started so early,” said Boozman. “It’s early now, and it’s been going on a couple of months already, and so it’s going to be a hard fought campaign.”

Boozman said the differences between the two men are very distinct, and that Cotton’s entry into the race makes Arkansas’s 2014 election season as a whole one to watch.

“All of the dominoes are kind of falling,” added Boozman. “In another month or so, all of this should settle out where we exactly know who’s running for what. … I think that at the end of the day the voters are going to hear a lot.”