MONDAY will bring the moment of truth in weeks of behind-closed-door negotiations on key components of the commodity title among the farm bill principals, who have sent potential compromise solutions to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to be scored.
It isn't nutrition funding that has stalled discussions, but members reported that 95% of their time for the last two weeks of negotiations has been spent on Title I.
"Committees are the closest they've been since the process started on wrapping up a farm bill and getting it done," said Chandler Goule, National Farmers Union vice president of government relations.
Just having an agreement on what to send CBO for scoring is substantial, he added.
Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said, "Certainly, all the attitudes are upbeat and positive, but I don't believe anything is yet in stone."
Thatcher said it appears that the leaders have tentatively agreed to use some form of base acres for both the shallow loss program and target prices for the House and Senate farm bill versions.
How to determine target prices has been a major sticking point between leaders and draws deep divides between southern and midwestern crop interests. The rough goal now is to pay on 85% of base acres for both the new revenue and price loss programs in the proposed commodity title.
Thatcher said it appears that an adjusted gross income cap will not be placed on crop insurance; however, conservation compliance will be reattached to crop insurance.
Thatcher added that, very likely, the scores will come back from CBO too high, and more negotiations will be necessary.
However, Goule noted that if Congress tweaks the proposal, CBO can quickly turn around estimates once it has set up the modeling.
"I don't think anyone is going to be happy with the Title I program, which usually means it's the best compromise," Goule added.
Time is not on the side of passing something before the end of the year, although chances remain.
Goule explained that depending on what CBO comes back with, the House could take up a vote as soon as Wednesday or Thursday before adjourning Dec. 13, and the Senate plans to be in session until Dec. 20.
House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said last Thursday afternoon that the House could vote on a conference report as early as this week, although he noted that a short extension is also a possibility.
In his weekly conference last Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) mentioned the possible need for a one-month extension to avoid another "dairy cliff."
Goule said his group opposes a short-term farm bill extension, a dairy extension and for sure any long-term extension. "We are willing to go past Jan. 1 with no extension," he explained.
Goule warned that the longer this sits past Christmas, the more the bill will be pulled into the budget mess again. He said it comes down to how much "House leadership truly wants to get this done this month or drag us through mid-January."
Following the talk of an extension, USDA communications director Matt Paul said in a statement, "Negotiations on Capitol Hill about the farm bill should continue until House and Senate leaders reach agreement on a comprehensive bill. Numerous members of both sides have indicated progress, and the country deserves continued work on this critical legislation."
Earlier in the week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned that negotiations shouldn't make "perfect the enemy of good." Within the discussion of food stamps and subsidies, much of the "good" the farm bill could provide the country is being lost in the conversation, he said of the positive improvements made within the farm bill reform and the money provided for trade, research and rural America as a whole.