A framework agreement for the Farm Bill could be announced this week, setting up a formal meeting of the full conference committee to finalize legislation to send to the floor of both chambers of Congress.
After Congress deals with the omnibus appropriations measure that must be enacted by January 15, the farm bill is widely expected to be the next major legislation tackled on the Hill.
Despite signs of progress prior to the holidays, the framework has yet to be officially announced and a number of unknowns still cloud the bill’s future.
Conferee members have reported that a formal farm bill conference committee meeting could happen late this week. The precise agenda and timing could be decided upon late Tuesday or Wednesday, setting up a potential meeting date of Thursday or Friday. In this meeting, conferees would discuss the final details of the bill, most notably more philosophical topics such as the King amendment which would limit state's ability to limit production practices, country-of-origin labeling and payment limitation requirements.
"This is the month to get it done," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during this week's episode of the Feedstuffs In Focus podcast. "I think that the expectation out in the countryside, and certainly the need out in the countryside is to get this done in January of this year...We've waited a long time for the predictability of the farm safety net."
Vilsack indicated that if there are no signs of progress on the Farm Bill within the next couple weeks, USDA will have to begin the process of implementing permanent law.
Last Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) released a memo outlining the House Republican’s legislative agenda for January, which called for prioritizing legislation on trade, immigration, and flood insurance among others.
The House calendar remains full - in session only four days this week and four days next week. Both the House and Senate are out of session the week of Jan. 20. House members return Jan. 27-29 before GOP members hold a planning retreat at the end of the month.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has stated the House will undertake immigration reform on a step-by-step process. The Senate passed immigration legislation (S. 744) last session.
Conferees on the Water Resource Development Act of 2013 (WRDA) are still working to reconcile the two bills.