MANY important pieces of legislation could be on the move in the Senate in the next few weeks.
In a floor speech April 25, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the Senate "must complete work on job-creating water resources legislation and a farm bill during the May work period so we can move forward on the immigration debate in June."
While speaking at the Senate Democrat Rural Summit the same day, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said she plans on marking up a farm bill in May as early as possible, although she did not give a specific date. The House has set its markup for May 15.
Last year, Stabenow helped lead a bipartisan farm bill through the Senate floor with then-ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.). However, the current ranking member, Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.), opposed the farm bill last year -- as did his southern colleagues -- because of how the proposal treated southern commodities like cotton and rice.
At the rural summit, Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) said he is certain that differences on the farm bill's commodity title can be resolved to bring a bill to the floor while still addressing the needs of southern producers.
"One of the things we need to recognize is that agriculture is very different from one region to another," Pryor said. "I realize I'm not going to get everything I want, but let's all work together and just do it."
A consistent theme of Senate members on the featured panels at the summit was the importance of implementing a strong farm bill.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) said one of the disappointments with the farm bill extension was that it defunded many farm programs.
For rural America, this could mean less funding for important programs, but the Senate Agriculture Committee has said it is still committed to trying to contribute to debt reduction while also keeping a majority of last year's bill as the foundation.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), a new face on the agriculture committee, said on the campaign trail, she pushed for passing a farm bill.
"When people (ask) what's my priority for the farm bill, I tell them crop insurance, crop insurance, crop insurance," Heitkamp explained.
Klobuchar noted that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Cal.) pulled off a bipartisan highway bill last year and expects the same to happen this year on waterway funding. She said she is "feeling pretty good" that the Water Resources Development Act will advance in the Senate.
The Senate is losing another veteran lawmaker. Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) announced that he will not seek re-election in 2014.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he will use this term to pursue his legislative priorities, including tax reform, the highway bill and a strong farm bill.
"I'm not turning out to pasture because there is important work left to do, and I intend to spend the year-and-a-half getting it done," he said.
In 2009, Max was sworn in for a sixth Senate term, making him the longest-serving U.S. senator in Montana history.