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Doheny: Bring farm bill to vote; pass it

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Republican candidate Matthew A. Doheny said Saturday that if he were a member of Congress, he would vote for the farm bill despite reservations about some of its provisions.
Mr. Doheny announced his support for the first time in an interview with the Times on Saturday, one day after he spent several hours at a fundraiser in Lake George with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio — the very man who stands in the way of a full vote. Mr. Doheny’s newfound support now aligns him with several upstate House members, including Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, his Nov. 6 opponent.
“I think that it’s time to go forward, and I do think it’s time to bring the bill to the floor,” Mr. Doheny said. “I have some serious concerns about some parts of the bill and I hope that, through the negotiation process, it can be strengthened.”
But with Congress adjourned until after Labor Day, it’s not clear when or even whether Mr. Boehner — who has dubbed parts of the farm bill, including its dairy provisions, “Soviet style” — might bring it to a vote. The current farm law expires at the end of September, giving the House only a handful of working days left to act on the bill.
Mr. Doheny refused to say whether he spoke with Mr. Boehner about the bill.
“I don’t think it’s right for me to talk about private conversations,” Mr. Doheny said of his discussions with the speaker during the private fundraiser on Friday.
Mr. Doheny, who did not specify what about the farm bill he thinks should be changed, is caught between two seemingly contradictory imperatives. Many farmers and farm groups in the north country like the bill. But some of its provisions run counter to his campaign platform: cutting spending; eliminating so-called “corporate welfare” and letting the free market, not government, decide what’s best for business.
For example, Mr. Doheny would not say what parts of the farm bill constitute “corporate welfare” — a catch-all term describing government actions that favor one particular industry or company over another.
“When it comes to certain programs, let’s let the free market decide,” Mr. Doheny said.
The farm bill would dramatically change the dairy industry, which comprises much of the north country’s agricultural landscape.
The new dairy program would provide payments to farmers if the price of milk falls a certain level below their costs of operation. But in exchange, farmers would have to agree to limits on production to help stabilize prices.
On the dairy program, Mr. Doheny said: “I think there needs to be some further discussion there. ... I don’t want to have a program that would limit our family farms’ ability to be successful, and be more efficient and bring more talent to their farms, get a better yield from their crops and their herd. I want to make sure that people aren’t arbitrarily limited.”
Mr. Doheny said there are still plenty of opportunities to change the bill before it becomes law. The differences between the Senate version of the bill and the House version would have to be ironed out before President Obama can sign the legislation.
As supporters gathered Friday to take photos with the speaker and give campaign donations to Mr. Doheny, Mr. Owens, who voted to move the bill out of the House Agriculture Committee, chided Mr. Boehner for not bringing the measure up for a vote.
“It is unacceptable for the House to leave Washington without approving its version of the bill so that negotiations may begin between the House and Senate on a final version to send to the president,” Mr. Owens said in a news release. “I urge Speaker Boehner to call the full House back to work, and both parties to work together to get this done.”
After Mr. Owens’s comment was posted on the Times’s politics blog, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner fired back, criticizing Mr. Owens for voting against drought relief legislation.
“This week the House passed a responsible bill to help farmers and ranchers who are suffering from drought,” Cory Fritz said. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Owens voted ‘no’ and is standing with the members of his party in the Senate who continue to block this relief package from getting to those in need.”
A spokesman for Mr. Owens said in an email that the drought bill didn’t include any relief for upstate farmers hurt by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
“The drought aid legislation was completely unrelated to the farm bill, and many in the Republican Party also voted against it because House leadership has so far refused to bring the bipartisan farm bill up for a vote,” Sean R. Magers said.
On Saturday, Mr. Doheny also criticized Mr. Owens for voting against the drought relief legislation, saying that it would hurt farmers, ranchers and anyone who buys food.
Mr. Owens said through a spokesman that he would sign on to a so-called discharge petition. If enough members sign on to the discharge petition, the farm bill will get an up or down vote on the House floor. According to The Hill, a Washington publication that covers Congress, the petition faces roadblocks from the House leadership.
Mr. Doheny also would support the discharge petition, spokesman Jude R. Seymour said in a follow-up interview.

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