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Farm bill has tough row to hoe

It got worse this week for farm legislation.

In fact, lawmakers may very well be at the point where the chances of passing new multiyear farm legislation have gotten just about as iffy as the weather.

The Senate adopted farm legislation in June and sent it to the House. Among those in the Senate who endorsed the legislation in the 66-27 vote was Georgia's senior Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Moultrie Republican and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry that he chaired when the GOP controlled the Upper Chamber.

Chambliss stated after the Senate passage that the bill "strikes a balance that last year's Senate version did not. ... I recognize how difficult it is to combine diverse interests into a single piece of legislation that meets the needs of all crops, regions, rural and urban communities."

He described it as "a reform-minded bill, that not only saves $24 billion with sequestration cuts included, but also provides an effective safety net for farmers and ranchers to rely on in times of need. I am confident this bill adequately addresses the various needs and interests between commodities and regions. I urge the House to pass their bill in a timely manner, so we may go to conference before the current extension expires in September. Farmers deserve certainty, so they may plan for the future and focus on doing what they do best: producing the highest quality agricultural products in the world."

The House did that Thursday. What was approved in a 216-208 vote, however, was either a severe negotiating position or a guaranteed brake on getting farm legislation approved anytime soon.

Written by the GOP, the House legislation decouples farm legislation from the federal food stamp program.

Politically, the House bill has gone as far as it can go. The chances of legislation resembling the House bill passing the Senate are nil, and if it did somehow gain Senate approval President Barack Obama would certainly make good on his threat to veto the bill.

There was a time when this legislation enjoyed strong bipartisan support. But as with everything else in Washington these days, lawmakers are taking hard rights and lefts, leaving too few legislators in the middle.

Congress is not, particularly in this hostile climate, going to be able to slice food stamps from farm programs in its legislation. Strong supporters of the food stamp program know that, taken alone, it is much more vulnerable. Though the Senate bill cuts food stamp spending by $4 billion, that's still $16 billion less than House Republicans want.

At best, this is a symbolic stand by House Republicans and a position for negotiation. At worst, it will result in an extension of current law and forestall any program improvements that were in the Senate bill.

What it all boils down to is farm legislation has a tough row to hoe.

Unfortunately, it may be too tough for this crop of farm bills.