Farm bill negotiations spilling into next week; extension looms

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2013 - Negotiations over a long-term farm bill are rolling into next week as top congressional conferees continued to work today to piece together a deal - while talk of another extension increased among lawmakers.

There were signals that the four principals - Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., - are on the edge of a break-through on several differences.

While many parts of the legislation remain up in the air, it seems the principals have agreed to consider different commodity title options such as allowing corn and soybean growers to choose a farm program calculated on base acres rather than planted acres. On nutrition, the bottom line number for a reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs appears to be between $10 billion and $12 billion over 10 years. The Senate bill had it pegged at $4 billion, while the House bill came in at $40 billion. But sources close to the negotiations say they are waiting for Congressional Budget Office scores on various provisions before any final decisions are made. More movement is expected by Monday if the CBO scores are available. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said a conference report could hit the floor next week.

< Lets Talk Foodp style="margin:0in;font-family:"Times New Roman";font-size:12.0pt">At the same time, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said today he has not seen any “real progress” on the farm bill, and said he would support, if necessary, a one-month extension of the legislation. “I think we'll be prepared to do that,” Boehner said. He stressed the House will leave for the year on Dec. 13. “And you all know me pretty well. I mean what I say, and I say what I mean,” he said.

Boehner's comments came one day after Lucas and other conferees described “great progress” being made in negotiations.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Boehner may have made those comments because he was not completely well-briefed and has not been as deeply involved in the negotiations as Lucas.

“A ruckus between the speaker and [Lucas], and the speaker and me are counter-productive,” Conaway said.

Conaway said he would accept a two-week extension, but said, “The longer it goes, the harder it gets to get the deal done.”

The USDA weighed in on the farm bill talks late Thursday.

“Negotiations on Capitol Hill about the farm bill should continue until House and Senate leaders reach agreement on a comprehensive bill,” said USDA communications director Matt Paul. “Numerous members of both sides have indicated progress, and the country deserves continued work on this critical legislation.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said today she would continue to press to provide certainty for sugar beet growers.

“During the recent recession, it was the sugar industry and the whole agriculture sector that thrived,” Heitkamp said. “Why would we want to damage this by not doing our jobs and providing them with a long-term farm bill?”

Heitkamp said she is working to “beat back special interest attempts to gut the sugar program.” She said any foreign countries unfairly subsidize and protect their sugar industry to the detriment of U.S. sugar producers. “We need a strong sugar program to make sure American sugar beet growers have a fair fight, which is why I have and continue to be at the center of the effort to make sure sensible sugar policies remain intact.”

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