Stabenow
Stabenow

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The greatest country in the world deserves better than the government shutdown, Debbie Stabenow told attendees of the 2013 United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference.

Drawing applause for her support of the farm bill and comprehensive immigration reform, Stabenow said the government shutdown blocked progress on all issues.

“It is difficult to understand what is happening, even for me, and I’m in the middle of it,” said Sen. Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

She was one of several lawmakers and administration officials who spoke at the event. Stabenow said conservative Republicans shut down the government in what she said was a case of “wagging the dog.”

“They have come here to shut the government down, and they are pretty happy today because they finally have done it, even if it is only for a short time,” she said Oct. 1.

Stabenow said the shutdown came as a result of a six-week funding bill that some Republicans decided to use to attack Obamacare.

Once the crisis passes, Stabenow said she holds out hope for a new five-year farm bill. The firt inclusion of specialty crop programs in the 2008 bill was a significant victory, and lawmarkers are building on that with the new bill.

The main stumbling block in the push for a new farm bill is nutrition-related programs. The House version of the farm bill, now recently combined to include both nutrition programs and farm-related programs, has more than $40 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps.

“The nutrition title is so far off it is not close to what we would accept in the Senate,” he said.

Regular farm bill funding ran out Sept. 30, but Stabenow said nothing “bad” happens until January, when farm programs revert to Depression Era farm bill subsidies. Stabenow said simply extending the 2008 farm bill won’t work.

“We are not going to pass another extension that does not do the job,” she said.

About 20 Senate colleagues have said they would not support a regular farm bill extension that continues direct payments, Stabenow said.

“That option is not there; the option is to get things done,” she said.

House and Senate members will be chosen soon to negotiate a compromise version of the farm bill,