HOPES for a full farm bill conference and finalization of the farm bill looked promising heading into the first week Congress was back in session, but divisive issues have delayed its movement again.
Details of the farm bill deal remain few, but the latest stumbling block is the dairy supply management program, which has long been a contentious point for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) but championed by House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.).
The Senate-passed farm bill includes a new program offering profit margin insurance for dairy producers and would require producers who voluntarily enter the program to agree to cut milk production if the price should fall below a set amount.
Similar language made it into the House Agriculture Committee bill, with Peterson's strong support, but was stripped from the version on the House floor via an amendment offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.).
Amendment sponsors Goodlatte and Rep. David Scott (R., Ga.) wrote a letter to the top four farm bill principals to underscore the position of the House, reminding leaders that the House stripped out the supply management provisions from the farm bill by a bipartisan vote of 291-135, including 196 Republicans and 95 Democrats.
They added that the House bill's dairy language would be better for the majority of the nation's dairy farmers, pointing out that 90% of U.S. dairy farmers have fewer than 200-250 cows and, thus, would be better served under their amendment.
"Support of our amendment will help bring the farm bill negotiations to a successful conclusion, just as support for supply management would stand in the way of the farm bill's conclusion," Goodlatte and Scott wrote.
When asked if he would block the farm bill conference report from coming back to the House floor if it did include supply management language, Boehner suggested that House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) would keep him from having to make that decision.
"I am confident the conference report will not include supply management in the dairy program," Boehner said.
Could this mean that Boehner won't allow any farm bill conference to come to the floor if it includes the supply management component he despises?
Lucas has been cornered again, with potentially no way to escape.
Lucas said the lead conferees have been working on a compromise that would satisfy both Boehner and Peterson, but they are "just not there yet."
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said it would be a "shame" if Boehner tried to stop the farm bill at this point. She's urging all sides to back down and agree to a dairy compromise.
"I'm hopeful that the speaker will take a look at the fact that his proposal ... would cost billions of dollars more in taxpayer money, which is certainly not something we want," Stabenow was quoted as saying in The Hill's "On the Money" blog. "There certainly are compromises if people are willing to do that."
Both chambers are set to recess for a week Jan. 17, which could draw out any action on the bill until the week of Jan. 27. Again, we're at an impasse and waiting to see if legislators will find a compromise or derail progress.