Even though Congress is on break for Thanksgiving – the four principal negotiators are meeting. If they can reach an agreement – the plan is to hold an open conference meeting Monday (December 4). The Senate will not actually be in session – but House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson says they have already been put on alert they may need to return to Washington for the meeting. The hope had been for the Ag Committee leaders to reach agreement before the Thanksgiving recess. According to Peterson – there are still disagreements over the commodity title and food stamps. He said Friday that the commodity title conflict is a conflict between Republicans – with those from the north favoring the Senate version of the bill and those from the south favoring the House bill. House Ag Chair Frank Lucas admitted Friday that reaching a farm bill agreement has been harder than he thought it would be. He added dairy to the list of trouble spots. He also mentioned issues like country-of-origin labeling, changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act and the amendment sponsored by Representative Steve King to stop states from banning food produced in another state due to objections over production methods. Lucas said those will likely have to be settled in an open session. With Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow and Peterson opposed to an extension – Lucas said the chances are not good for an extension – so conferees just have to get their work done. North Dakota Senator John Hoeven doesn’t want an extension either. He told folks in his home state over the weekend that the elements for a farm bill compromise are there – it just comes down to getting people to agree. Hoeven believes if the four principal negotiators can reach agreement – the House could take the bill to the floor before leaving on December 13th and the Senate could take up the bill before going out of session on the 20th.
If Congress doesn’t pass the bill in December – Hoeven said there’s still a chance in early January. The main concern is that Congress will be trying to finish a budget deal and finish appropriations for the rest of fiscal year 2014. But Hoeven said farmers and ranchers need certainty and Congress needs to deliver a five-year farm bill so they know what to count on. He encouraged his audience to urge all members of Congress to get the job done – not wait until January.
Source: NAFB News service