WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2013 – Negotiations between the top four principals over a long-term farm bill slowed today with no real progress and no further face-to-face meetings scheduled before the congressional Thanksgiving recess.

“I’m very disappointed that there’s no agreement yet,” said Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., as she emerged from a second meeting of the day with the other top conferees.

Stabenow, committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., hunkered down for a meeting early Wednesday in the House Longworth building. Then, they met again later for a meeting in the Senate basement that lasted about 20 minutes.

Still, hopes of a breakthrough this week or next seem to be dashed, largely because there has been no compromise reached on the commodity title. One of the biggest sticking points is whether farm program payments will be calculated on planted acres, base acres or a new formula that represents a compromise between the two.

“We’ve had a number of occasions where we thought we were close and then things changed,” Stabenow said. “There will be work done the rest of the day, tomorrow, the weekend and into next week.”

Lucas also told reporters he does not anticipate any more meetings of the “Big 4” this week.

Stabenow said, after the second meeting, none of the titles are done, but many are “very close.” “This is a global agreement, so we’ll have an agreement when we have an agreement,” Stabenow said.

With legislative time quickly running out, discussions of an extension of current policy will intensify among stakeholders and lawmakers.

On the possibility of another extension, Stabenow firmly said there will not be another extension that includes direct payments. “It’s very clear the votes are not there [in the Senate],” she said.

“We can get an extension but it won’t include direct payments, and having that happen is certainly not in the best interest of agriculture. It’s not something I want,” Stabenow said.

As has been the case since the first conference meeting, Stabenow and other top conferees are continuing to refuse to offer details about the negotiations. When asked if she can talk about the nutrition title differences between the House and Senate bills, Stabenow curtly said, “No.”

But then she added, “I think the people in the House that had nutrition as a top issue also voted against the agricultural part of the farm bill, so they’re not going to vote for the farm bill either way.”

Further, Stabenow reaffirmed that she would not oppose possible efforts to attach the farm bill to a budget bill.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, expressed some optimism that a new farm bill could still be completed in December, noting that conference committees are typically contentious.

“At these stages in typical conference work, the emotions ebb and flow,” Conaway told Agri-Pulse. “At any one time you can feel better about something than others.”


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