The five-year farm bill, which covers issues from domestic crop
subsidies to exports and global food aid, is being held up chiefly
by a dispute between Republican House Speaker John Boehner and
Democratic Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota over a
program that would cut milk production if prices decline below a
But Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, who is a member
of the House-Senate "conference" panel considering the bill but not
among the four lead negotiators, said he thought a compromise could
be reached that does not include the supply management element,
which Boehner opposes.
"Obviously for the speaker, the issue is not having supply
management in there. And I think there are a number of ideas and
ways to have a dairy program that works for the smaller producers
but doesn't have supply management," Hoeven said.
"I just hope we have the (negotiators) agreeing by the end of the
week. I think that is possible," he said.
The dairy issue appears to be the last major hurdle to a deal on the
Peterson, top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and one of
the top four negotiators on the farm bill, has championed the Dairy
Security Act, a new program that offers producers profit-margin
insurance as long as they agree to cut milk output if prices fall
below a set level.
Farmers generally support Peterson's proposal, while processors — who make cheese, ice cream and yogurt, and say it could lead to
higher prices for milk — oppose it.
Boehner is not one of the four key negotiators but has been a
long-standing opponent of dairy price supports. The speaker has
derided the support system as "Soviet-style" and has vowed not to
allow a bill with supply management to come to the House floor for a
"The speaker has been very clear about his position," said Boehner
spokesman Michael Steel.
Peterson was not immediately available for comment.
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"TIME GETTING SHORT"
Hoeven said that if a deal is reached, Congress, which is in recess
next week, should be able to pass the bill before the end of
Lawmakers are more than a year late in replacing the 2008 farm law,
which expired in the autumn of 2012 but was extended until September
If no bill is passed, the Agriculture Department may be forced to
peg dairy subsidies to an underlying "permanent" 1949 law that would
double the price of milk in grocery stores — an event often referred
to as the dairy cliff.
"If we have to institute permanent law, that's absolutely going to
create a lot of chaos in the market. It's going to create shortages
in the grocery store and it's going to create higher prices,"
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the news organization
Agri-Pulse in an interview this week.
Vilsack said previously he did not think a milk price increase would
occur during January, giving lawmakers some time to pass the bill.
Hoeven said lawmakers were feeling the heat.
"Time is getting short, so people need to find a way to agree. The
deadline is here," he said.
Negotiators have reportedly agreed to about $8 billion in cuts over
10 years to the food stamp program, formally known as the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which gives about 47
million low-income Americans money to pay for food.
In its version of the farm bill passed in June, the Democratic-run
Senate offered $4.5 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years The
House proposed $39 billion in cuts.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; additional reporting by Caren Bohan;
editing by Peter Cooney)
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