Noem expected to help craft farm bill compromise

By Christopher Doering, Gannett Washington Bureau

Republican Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota is expected to be among lawmakers chosen to work on a House-Senate conference committee crafting a farm bill.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will name the House conferees Friday. The Senate conferees already have been announced. The joint panel is tasked with merging the House and Senate farm bills into a final version to be voted on by both chambers.

Noem, the state’s lone representative in the House, was hesitant to acknowledge reports of her involvement.

“I think some of those lists are fairly accurate, but we’ll have to see what the official list is tomorrow when we hear from the speaker’s office,” Noem told reporters. “I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my potential involvement in being part of the ongoing discussions.”

South Dakota has not had a House member be on the farm bill conference committee since then-Rep. Tim Johnson in 1996.  South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, who was majority leader, was on the panel in 2002.

“Rep. Noem has worked very hard to get the farm bill to this point and has made it clear to the speaker that she wants to stay closely involved going forward,” said Jordan Stoick, Noem’s chief of staff. “I think South Dakota’s agriculture producers will feel they are well represented as this process continues.”

Noem, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said lawmakers in Washington need to keep pushing for a five-year farm bill. The need was heightened following the storm that dumped nearly four feet of snow in some parts of western South Dakota earlier this month. The record-breaking storm left thousands without power, and ranchers are now bracing for a major loss in their cattle herds.

The USDA was given authority to operate livestock disaster assistance programs in the 2008 farm bill, but the authority expired on Sept. 30, 2011. A new farm bill would have to be signed into law to restore that assistance.

The most recent farm bill expired on Sept. 30, ending several food aid, rural development and agricultural programs, among others. Popular programs for food stamps, subsidy payments and crop insurance remain in place.

The more pressing deadline comes on Jan. 1 when a 1949 farm law requires that subsidy prices begin to increase, starting with dairy payments. That could double the price consumers pay for milk to $7 a gallon. Wheat and other commodities would be affected later in 2014.

The biggest divide between the House and Senate is on funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program. In June, the Democrat-controlled Senate approved a reduction of $4.5 billion over a decade, while the Republican-led House recently passed a reduction of $40 billion.