WASHINGTON – A New Year’s deadline that could send the price of milk skyward looms over congressional negotiators as they try to reach agreement on a five-year farm bill. They’ve been tripped up by differences over the nation’s food stamp program and how to restructure farm subsidies.
The two chambers have been far apart on both issues for more than two years. But the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees expressed optimism after a private meeting Wednesday that they may be able to find resolution in time to narrowly avert the expiration of dairy subsidies on Jan. 1. If those subsidies expire, new laws will kick in that could result in decreased dairy supply on the commercial market and higher prices for a gallon of milk.
Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, a Republican on the House-Senate farm bill conference committee, said negotiators could possibly hold a public meeting next week for the conference committee to settle some of the remaining issues before the House leaves for the year on Dec. 13. But with a final deal still elusive, it seems unlikely that Congress will finish the bill before the end of the year.
On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said the bill should be extended through January while negotiators work out their differences. Boehner also contradicted the optimism of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who said Wednesday that the two sides had made “great progress.”
“You know, I’ve not seen any real progress on the farm bill,” Boehner said. “And so if we’ve got to pass a one-month extension of the farm bill, I think we ought to be prepared to do that.”
An extension is not certain, however. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he doesn’t want to extend the bill again after Congress already extended the bill at the beginning of this year.