Farm bill conferees huddle again, hope for framework next week

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2013 - Top farm bill conferees are expected to meet again next week to work on nailing down a framework for legislation that Congress could take up early next year, lawmakers said today.

The four principals held an early morning meeting today, where progress was cited, with no details. “We're very close,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “We're feeling very positive. We're all confident we're going to have it done and ready to go for January.”

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Stabenow reiterated that Congressional Budget Office scores on the commodity title “were very good, very close to what we needed.” Stabenow, like other conferees, remained tight-lipped on any details of the scores. “We're just wrapping up various policy issues,” Stabenow said.

Today's meeting came a day after the House approved legislation (H.R. 3695), by voice vote, to extend the current farm bill through Jan. 31. The bill is considered dead in the water in the Senate.

Stabenow's comments echoed those of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who told Agri-Pulse late Thursday that the conferees have been “getting numbers back, and the numbers look good.”

The current extension of the 2008 farm bill will expire Dec. 31, and lawmakers have been unable to move a five-year bill through Congress. The lack of another extension would trigger permanent law, which has caused fears of a large increase in the price of milk among other things.

The latest extension bill will not be debated in the Senate, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Stabenow said it is not necessary.  However, Lucas said he wanted the House to approve the one-month extension in case the Senate decides it needs a vehicle to move an extension. The House has adjourned for the year, while the Senate plans to stay until Dec. 20.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also acknowledged today that progress continues to be made on a five-year bill.

“But there are still decisions that lie ahead of us,” Cochran said. “I am hopeful that on both sides of the aisle in both bodies, we can come together on a farm bill agreement that will reform and modernize programs, produce budget savings at the same time, and provide certainty about the government's role to producers and consumers alike.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said today that conferees are the “closest we have been in the past three years” to a deal.

“We need to keep the pressure on, and passing a one month extension of the farm bill isn't necessary and doesn't help keep the momentum going,” Heitkamp said. “Now is the time to stop kicking the can down the road.”

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