Action on farm bill pushed into January

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON – Senate and House negotiators will leave Washington for the holidays without agreeing on a new farm bill. Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the chief negotiators, agreed the conference committee has made progress in recent weeks, and both were hopeful an agreement would be reached and a final bill submitted for a vote in early January. Ms. Stabenow said, “We are confident that we are going to have an agreement. We will be ready to vote in January.”

Mr. Lucas said he would file legislation that would extend the current farm law through the end of January so “permanent law” provisions aren’t implemented. If those provisions were to be activated, the most immediate effect would be the U.S. Department of Agriculture beginning to purchase dairy products at a price that would be about twice current market prices. This was expected to produce in spike in consumer dairy prices.

“We have made great progress on the farm bill and continue to have productive meetings,” Mr. Lucas said. “There are still some outstanding issues that we are addressing. I am confident we’ll work through them and finish a farm bill in January. Concurrent with our ongoing discussions this week, I will file legislation to extend the current farm bill through January to allow us to finish our work without the threat that permanent law will be implemented. Having this option on the table is the responsible thing to do in light of our tight deadline.”

Ms. Stabenow and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Majority Leader, opposed an extension concerned that it would preserve into 2014 the direct payments to producers most members of Congress oppose and create the conditions for further delay or even failure to pass a new farm bill.

Ms. Stabenow said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack assured the negotiators that it would take time for the U.S.D.A. to begin implementing “permanent law” and there would be no spike in dairy prices as long as Congress passes a farm bill quickly in January.

“Get it ready, so at the beginning of January, we can do our conference meeting and then move very quickly to pass the bill,” Ms. Stabenow said. “It’s my judgment that at least through the end of January, we’re not in a spot where dairy prices are affected at all.”

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