LAST week, there was some optimism that Congress could come to an agreement on the farm bill. However, big and little issues continue to be worked out as time winds down. These final days before Thanksgiving look to be crucial in reaching a final deal.
In a forum hosted by Politico last Thursday afternoon, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Reps. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) and Steve King (R., Iowa) all made comments on the bill's status.
Vilsack said he believes a promising indication of final passage is the reforms in the farm bill that will help begin to reduce the deficit. With Congress having no appetite to cut funding for mandatory programs, the farm bill offers substantial spending cuts to help in the current budget crisis.
In a twist earlier in the day, however, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) said in his weekly press conference that he doesn't believe the deficit savings in a farm bill should be used to reach a year-end budget deal replacing the sequester.
The House bill offers as much as $51 billion in savings over 10 years, which could go a long way toward replacing the $91 billion in automatic spending cuts set to go into effect in 2014. But Boehner said the farm bill should not be looked to for savings.
"I think it's a separate issue, and I've made it very clear" to House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), Boehner said.
Nutrition seems to be the easy scapegoat for why negotiations have stalled. King said he hasn't seen much movement on the nutrition impasse.
McGovern, who has been very outspoken about the proposed nutrition cuts, said the White House ought to take some leadership on the nutrition issue. He was critical that not one House hearing was conducted to closely examine any of the proposed nutrition cuts.
He did say he's "optimistic" that a farm bill will get done based on the desire he's heard from members. "So far, we keep on moving in the right direction," he said.
McGovern said one-on-one meetings with members have been ongoing. He, himself, had dinner the night before with Rep. Steve Southerland (R., Fla.), who introduced an amendment requiring work requirements for able-bodied adults who receive food stamps.
"All of us are trying to find ways to collaborate or cooperate so there is a farm bill," he said, but added that his hope is that Boehner will allow a bill to come to a vote even if he's not satisfied with every detail.
House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said principals continue to hash out details on the bill and are nearing a common point on the commodity title. The issue of target prices is at the heart of the dispute. The Senate tends to build its program from revenue on down, whereas the House looks to focus its base from production costs up.
Country-of-origin labeling continues to surface as an issue that many want to deal with in the farm bill discussion. Vilsack warned that it was wrong to run to Congress every time a trade dispute comes up, while opponents of the rule say a fix is needed before Canada and Mexico impose major trade sanctions against the U.S.