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U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Hoeven hopeful for a completed farm bill this week

WASHINGTON — What will happen if there is no final version of the farm bill by the end of the week? Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., doesn’t want to worry about it.

“My sincere hope is that we have something out here in the next day or so and certainly before next week,” Hoeven said on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

In fact, Hoeven said getting the bill done is on the minds of many in Congress.

“This is our first, second and third priority,” he said.

Hoeven sits on the farm bill conference committee and chairs the subcommittee on ag appropriations. The conference committee is trying to iron out differences between House and Senate versions. The final version of the bill, still in works, comes far closer to the Senate version, Hoeven said.

“But it’s got elements of the House bill that are important,” he said.

He added that the bill seems to him to be a better version of the Senate bill.

Hoeven said members of the conference committee and their chiefs of staff are hard at work on the bill.

“We’re not meeting in formal meetings, but we’re working on it every day,” he said.

The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees meet often, he said. The ranking member of the House Ag Committee is Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Peterson was not available to talk about the farm bill negotiations, but Patrick Delaney, a spokesperson with his office, on Tuesday said, “Discussions are ongoing and nothing new to report as of yet.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and other U.S. Department of Agriculture also have been involved in negotiations, helping where they can.

“I think that has been helpful,” Hoeven said. “I’m very appreciative.”

Hoeven said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is committed to getting the farm bill on the floor. That would be made easier by a bill getting completed this week so that it has time to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and read over by members of both chambers.

Though Hoeven is confident a final version will be completed soon, he said there still are issues to resolve. Disagreements remain in regard to payment provisions and conservation programs, and Hoeven said the issue of forest management — made more conspicuous by the deadly California wildfires — remains on the table. The House bill had provisions which would give the Interior Department and the Forest Service authority to clear dead trees and brush from forests, while the Senate bill did not.

Hoeven is confident of resolution in another major difference between the Senate and House bills — nutrition programs.

“I think we’ve made progress there,” he said. “I think we will be able to resolve it.”

He cautioned that while “nothing’s final until everything is final,” he thinks the bill will come together.

“I really feel like we’re getting close and we should be able to button it up,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good bill. I think this is a good bill for our farmers in North Dakota and our farmers nationally. We want this bill. We want to get it done.”

While the farm bill is the most important thing at play in Washington, Hoeven said he’s talked to Vice President Mike Pence on issues like trade and disaster assistance in recent days, too.

“It’s not just the farm bill, but that is the absolute priority,” he said.