REPORTS indicated that congressional agriculture leaders see the "fiscal cliff" as the most promising way to pass a farm bill, although it remains a tall order.
Recall that the fiscal cliff was created in 2011 to force the then-Super Committee to come together on a grand compromise for getting the nation's budget in order. The sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect in 2013 thanks to the Super Committee's failure require Congress to again cross party lines and meet in the middle.
The agriculture committees were the only ones to present significant savings in 2011.
Now, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) are at it again, working behind closed doors to settle their differences and use the "savings" from a five-year farm bill as part of a compromise to pay down the nation's debt.
The White House and House Republicans continue to dance around the issue of finding middle ground, instead staying staunchly in their own corners and offering little compromise.
The Senate-passed farm bill saves about $23 billion, while the version approved by the House Agriculture Committee would save about $33 billion. The current word is that congressional leaders are seeking up to $35 billion in savings, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) reported in its newsletter Dec. 6.
The two biggest differences between the two versions are the commodity title -- specifically, whether target prices that are more palatable to southern producers should be allowed -- and the amount of food stamps savings.
Stabenow said she will not accept the House's approach to slashing $16 billion in food stamp funding but would support increasing potential efficiencies and anti-fraud efforts in the nutrition title beyond the $4 billion proposed in the Senate version.
Speaking at a forum last Thursday, Lucas and Stabenow acknowledged that farm bill talks remain at the mercy of a grand deal, but they also expressed optimism.
Lucas did concede that something may need to be done to transition farm programs, but Stabenow insisted that legislators need to avoid an extension, if possible.
Peterson has spoken out against an extension but has said he would support an extension if it includes his dairy market stabilization program. One of the biggest issues for Jan. 1 sans a new farm bill is the outrageous milk support limit.
The American Soybean Assn. (ASA), American Farm Bureau Federation, National Milk Producers Federation, National Corn Growers Assn. and NAWG met with House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) last Wednesday to reiterate the critical importance of finishing a new five-year farm bill before Congress adjourns.
"We have come to the bargaining table with concrete spending reductions and remain the only industry that has done so," ASA president Steve Wellman said of the agriculture sector. "We are, as we have been, open to compromise, provided that the end product is a new five-year farm bill that enables America's farmers to continue producing the safest and most abundant food supply in the world."