WASHINGTON Jan 15 Negotiations in Congress on
the long overdue U.S. farm bill could be completed this week
after progress was stalled by a disagreement over a dairy price
support program, a senator said on Wednesday.
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 certain level.
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 farm bill.
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 vote.
"The speaker has been very clear about his position," said
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Peterson was not immediately available for comment.
'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
Lawmakers are more than a year late in replacing the 2008
farm law, which expired in the autumn of 2012 but was extended
until Sept. 30, 2013.
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.