The farm bill principals are expected to release a framework agreement for long-term farm legislation this week. That framework could be announced as early as today (Tuesday) – with a full bill possibly released Wednesday. A conference meeting hasn’t been officially scheduled – but there are reports conferees would likely meet Thursday to vote on the most contentious issues and on approval of the overall bill. House and Senate leaders have signaled they expect to bring up the conference report soon. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – in a memo to House members – said the farm bill and water resources development act conference reports represent new ideas on how government programs should work – and as soon as they are ready for consideration – he expects to schedule them in the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects the farm bill to be completed by the end of the month. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was even more optimistic – suggesting Congress could send a bill to the President by the second week of January.
But it’s a busy time for Congress. The battle over an extension of unemployment insurance benefits is expected to take up space on the Senate’s legislative calendar this month. On top of that – House-Senate negotiators are trying to narrow their last differences over a trillion-plus dollar omnibus spending bill that would fill in the blanks of December’s budget deal and avoid another shutdown. Appropriations clerks reportedly made quite a bit of progress over the holidays – but House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers and Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski still must sort out the most difficult issues. The government is still under a stopgap continuing resolution that is set to expire January 15th. Some extension of that CR will likely be needed – but Rogers and Mikulski aim to keep any extension short so the pressure is on to complete passage before lawmakers leave for a mid-January recess.