DELAYS in receiving final cost estimates on a farm bill compromise left House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) forced to look to a one-month extension of the farm bill rather than passing a full bill before the House adjourned Dec. 13.
Last Thursday, the House passed by a voice vote a short-term extension until the end of January for current farm programs through January, which will give negotiators more time to reach an agreement on a new five-year law.
In a Dec. 10 statement, Lucas said great progress has been made, and productive meetings continue. However, there are still some outstanding issues that the principals are addressing.
"I am confident we'll work through them and finish a farm bill in January," Lucas said.
He noted that the House passing a one-month extension was the "responsible thing to do" in light of the looming threat of the government being forced to revert to decades-old law for dairy prices.
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) remains opposed to a farm bill extension as it could allow direct payments to continue for another year. "That's absolutely unacceptable and will not pass the Senate," she said.
The Senate is not expected to vote on an extension, but the process will continue to move forward. Stabenow has stated that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack assured her that there would be no effects on dairy prices in January, even without an extension. This allows negotiators to continue their work and prepare a conference committee report that can be voted on early next month.
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores of key components of the compromise were expected Dec. 9, but they were still not in the hands of legislators until Friday morning.
The Senate will stay in Washington, D.C., until Dec. 20, and Lucas and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) have agreed to stay to work on the bill as well.
The American Soybean Assn. (ASA) reported that it is likely that the leaders will hammer out their deal before the end of the year and then pass it to the conferees for review when Congress returns — Jan. 6 for the Senate and Jan. 7 for the House.
"This points to the potential that a deal can be considered by both houses of Congress during the second week of January," ASA said in its weekly newsletter Dec. 12.
With regard to the commodity title, reports note that the draft framework would offer producers a choice between keeping their current base acres or updating their base to an average of what they've planted in the last five years. Additionally, producers will have a choice between the Senate's Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program and the House's Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program, which provide revenue and price protection.
Due to the delay in the CBO estimates, leadership was in a "holding pattern," ASA stated. "Once the bill is scored, the leaders will have to adapt their plan to fit the budget number given to them by CBO. This means that both PLC and ARC could look very different, depending on how much CBO says they'll cost."