WASHINGTON, DEC. 31, 2012 – Some leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees thought they had a deal on extending the 2008 farm bill as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. But they learned this afternoon that Ranking Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, who negotiated a wide variety of tax provisions through most of Sunday night and Monday morning with Vice President Joe Biden, has a different set of farm bill cards in mind.
GOP sources say that, McConnell is concerned about the possibility of another senator raising a budget point of order on the extension package developed by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., over the weekend. And he’s also listened carefully to objections from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is adamantly opposed to dairy reform provisions that were included in such an extension.
So, as part of a new tax deal, McConnell plans to offer a straight extension of the existing 2008 farm bill provisions, including about $5 billion in direct payments, while eliminating any new reforms or price support for dairy farmers. Adding insult to injury for reform-minded dairy producers: the McConnell language would extend the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) at the lower, post-Aug 2012 levels.
Gone also would be $125 million designed to provide retroactive insurance for cherry growers who were hard by a freeze in Stabenow’s home state of Michigan.
One Senate Democratic aide told Agri-Pulse that McConnell’s package would have no disaster assistance while eliminating the energy title, conservation programs and specialty crop and organic provisions. However, a Republican aide said that McConnell’s plan would reauthorize all of the 2008 farm bill provisions even though it was not clear which ones would receive mandatory versus discretionary funding.
The final details – like many others being negotiated as part of a larger package- are still fluid, according to both Democratic and Republican sources. Members were still getting briefed on the outlines of the tentative deals in their respective caucus meetings tonight.
Chairwoman Stabenow has been busy networking with other Senators this afternoon and fighting McConnell’s attempts to change the 78-page farm bill extension bill that she and Lucas worked on over the weekend.
But whether or not she’ll be successful, or whether a final package to avoid the fiscal cliff comes together, is still anyone’s guess. Senate Democrats and Republicans appeared to be edging closer to a deal on the tax provisions this afternoon, but there was no agreement on how to avoid sequestration and votes are not expected until late Monday or Tuesday.
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