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Ag committees feel pressure from ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

Fears that President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, might use farm bill budget authority as a government spending cut to reach agreement on a “fiscal cliff” deal is putting pressure on the House and Senate Agriculture committees to reach agreement on a farm bill, even though they appear far apart on the commodity title, Capitol Hill sources have told The Hagstrom Report.

Agriculture committee leaders have said they were waiting for signals from Obama and the congressional leadership on an overall fiscal cliff deal, but in recent days they have moved ahead with farm bill negotiations.

Obama has repeatedly said in recent days that he does not think the Republicans in Congress will let taxes rise on the middle class, and there has been a continuous series of stories on behind-the-scenes negotiations showing movement on the tax issues.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that House lawmakers should not make Christmas plans because they might be in session between Christmas and New Year’s. That could mean be interpreted as putting pressure on House Republicans to become more cooperative or to plan to be in Washington during the holidays.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Wednesday, “We’re going to stay here until Christmas Eve and even the time between and before the new year.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday that she believes Congress and Obama should reach a deal so that members can be home with their families over the holidays.

The concern that Obama and Boehner might strike a deal involving cuts to farm subsidies springs from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s comments two weeks ago that the administration would propose them as part of a spending cuts offer, and from Boehner’s longtime lack of enthusiasm for farm subsidies.

The specific concern is that if the House and Senate agriculture committees do not reach agreement on a farm bill, Obama and Boehner might agree to use the $49 billion over 10 years in budgetary authority for the direct payments program as part of the fiscal cliff deal, not give the Agriculture committees any credit for that savings and then come back next year and propose cuts to the crop insurance program.

Politico reported late Wednesday that the House and Senate agriculture committees are far apart on the structure of the commodity title. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called the situation “a quagmire” and proof that the negotiations should have started months ago, according to the Politico report.

The commodity title appears to be the concern of the moment, but the issue of a cut to the food stamp program, which makes up more than 70 percent of the Agriculture department budget, remains. The Obama administration has opposed such a cut, but Republicans have been insistent that the program, which now has more than 47 million beneficiaries, should be trimmed by making eligibility requirements tougher.

Politico: Huge divide remains on Farm Bill