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In Watertown visit, Cantor lauds Doheny, discusses farm bill

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that the proposed farm bill, currently in legislative limbo, will need to be changed before it passes the House of Representatives.

“If it’s going to pass, we’re going to need some tweaks,” Mr. Cantor, R-Va., said at a news conference following his tour of Knowlton Technologies, a Factory Street manufacturer of specialty paper.

Mr. Cantor said that he’d listen to the input from Republican congressional candidate Matthew A. Doheny about what parts of the bill need to be tweaked.

“That’s why we’re here,” Mr. Cantor said, pointing to Mr. Doheny.

Publicly, at least, Mr. Doheny didn’t mention any changes that could break the logjam.

“I really can’t answer specifically in the minds of X Republicans or Y Democrats,” Mr. Doheny said, mentioning unspecified changes to the food stamps program. “Right now, it’s truly a bipartisan problem.”

Mr. Doheny suggested that it might be more about persuading Democratic legislators than tweaking language.

The bill passed the House Agriculture Committee with a 35-11 vote over the summer. Mr. Doheny’s Nov. 6 opponent, U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, was one of those who voted to approve it. But the Republicans who control the House of Representatives — Mr. Cantor is the second-highest ranking legislator in the chamber — have refused to bring it up for a vote. The expiration of the current law puts New York farmers at risk, according to farm groups. And the impasse — as well as the argument over the impasse — puts into sharp relief the partisan gridlock that the Nov. 6 election has helped create, according to the candidates for Congress. The only disagreement is over who’s to blame.

Mr. Cantor, in the city to campaign for Mr. Doheny, said that the bill hasn’t been brought up because it doesn’t have the votes to pass.

“Right now, the farm bill is not in a position to pass,” said Mr. Cantor, who had just spent about a half-hour walking among the facility’s massive paper rollers that resemble the steel wheels of a large, hot train. “We’re trying to get a vehicle that will pass.”

Mr. Owens disagreed, and said that even if tweaks are necessary, they could be made when the bill is brought to the House floor.

He said that Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has told him that there are enough votes to pass the bill. About 80 Democrats support it, Mr. Owens said, and it needs 218 votes to pass. There are 240 Republicans in the House. The claim that Democrats are to blame for the inaction is “ridiculous,” Mr. Owens has said, because Republicans control what comes up for a vote and what doesn’t. Mr. Cantor won’t bring it up for a vote because he doesn’t want to rile conservative Republicans or give Democrats an election-year victory, Mr. Owens said.

Mr. Cantor said that it’s likely a farm bill will come up for a vote after the Nov. 6 election, in the so-called “lame-duck” session.

The current proposal, which Mr. Doheny said should be passed, would make crop insurance more generous. It would also transform the Milk Income Loss Contract program, a direct subsidy if milk prices fall below a certain level, into a margin insurance program. The insurance program would be voluntary and would provide payments to farmers if the price of milk falls below the cost of production. Not all dairy farmers support the changes, but major farm groups like the New York Farm Bureau have endorsed it.

Mr. Cantor declined to say how he’d personally vote on the current version of the farm law. He also said he was unfamiliar with comments by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who called dairy provisions in the bill “Soviet-style.”

“What I do know is that our party and the country can best be served by listening to folks such as Matt Doheny, who understands how the country was built,” Mr. Cantor said.

During his tour, Mr. Cantor, wearing safety goggles, listened patiently, nodded and asked questions as James S. Ganter, a Knowlton partner, showed him the paper that the factory produces. The factory produces the material that is used in Car-Freshner “little trees” and products that are used in farming and mining.

Mr. Cantor said that Washington should provide businesses, from Knowlton Technologies to family farms, with certainty in their tax bill and regulatory responsibilities. And he said that Mr. Doheny could do just that.

“That is my mission here today,” said Mr. Cantor, who headlined a fundraiser at the Savory Downtown, Washington Street, after the tour. “He’ll be a great advocate for people.”

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