WASHINGTON — Although they may be natural enemies in the modern, legislative landscape of Washington, environmentalists and fiscal conservatives have found common cause in demanding that Congress include them in closed-door talks to pass a farm bill as part of the fiscal cliff package.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Frank Lucas, respective chairs of the agriculture committees, have been refining the farm bill in private in hopes that a finished compromise could be more easily included with a fiscal cliff deal.
But the backroom negotiations have left environmentalists and fiscal conservatives on the outside — and they are none too pleased.
"This is absolutely irresponsible for Congress to even be considering," said Brandon Arnold of the National Taxpayers Union. "There's absolutely no reason why this process can't run through the regular order."
"It would be a fiscal cliff fiasco," added Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
And Dan Smith, of the U.S. PIRG, echoed, "Big agribusiness is looking to slip in a farm bill behind closed doors."
Stabenow and Lucas have been speaking daily to work out the differences between the Senate version of the farm bill, which would cut roughly $23 billion, including $4 billion from food stamps, and the House Agriculture Committee version, which would slice $35 billion, $16 from food stamps.
But some groups have cried foul because the talks have been held as a way to circumvent the House, where the bill has stalled amidst Republican disagreements over spending and Democratic opposition to steep food stamps cuts.