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House Extends Farm Bill into January

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a one-month extension of the Farm Bill late last week to give lawmakers time after the holidays to finish up a longer-term solution, but Democrats in the U.S. Senate say they oppose any temporary fix.

House members have left the Capitol for the year, while the Senate remains in session through this week. A conference committee of agriculture leaders from the two bodies said they made progress toward a compromise law this fall, but just couldn’t get done by the end of the year.

“Pass the extension … and we on the Agriculture Committee will take care of our business in January,” said committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma. House and Senate negotiators were making great progress on a compromise bill, he said

Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said many senators oppose the extension because it may trigger $5 billion in direct payment subsidies, which the new bill would end.

Supporters of a short-term extension want to avoid retail dairy prices doubling, as they would without a new law.

But Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley told Des Moines TV station WHO that a standalone dairy bill better addresses the issue of skyrocketing milk prices and that he is frustrated lawmakers are again considering an extension.

“A year ago now we would have had this same discussion,” Grassley said in a teleconference Wednesday.

“I was pretty sure a bill would pass. It ended up in a one-year extension,” he said. “That’s not the best way to do things as far as farm programs are concerned.”

Some Democrats also say the expected spike in retail milk prices – the “dairy cliff” – won’t happen.

“It’s not necessary,” said Rep. Jim Costa, California Democrat, in opposing the extension. Costa and Lucas were the only lawmakers to speak during the House debate.

Without a new law by the end of the year, dairy subsidies will revert to a 1949 law that would force the government to buy milk at a higher price, driving up the price for consumers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week that it is unlikely milk prices would go up if a permanent bill is passed in January. Lucas has said several times that he expects the conference committee will have a good bill to present shortly after Congress returns from the break.

The major issue for the farm bill is how much to fund food stamps, which the House would slash by $40 billion over 10 years and the Senate would cut only $4.5 billion in the same time period.

Both bills would end direct payments and rely more on crop insurance.

Courtesy Allison Floyd

Growing SC