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Agriculture News As It Happens

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Congressional staff continues work on farm and Ag appropriations bills

While many Americans take time off for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the staffs of the House and Senate Agriculture committees that write farm bill authorizing legislation and the staffs of the House and Senate Agriculture appropriations subcommittees are likely to be working hard to prepare the new farm bill and the fiscal year 2014 bills for Senate and House members when they return the first week of January.

There were more signs late last week that both bills will come up in January.

The government is operating under a continuing resolution that ends on January 15 and Congress must pass individual appropriations bills or a bill that combines all funding by that date to avoid another government shutdown.

Following congressional approval of a budget deal that sets overall spending levels, the House and Senate Appropriations committees and their subcommittees are now working out details of spending bills, although the amount of money that each set of subcommittees has been given has not been revealed.

Among the controversial items that the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees will have to work out is whether to include provisions that would block the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from implementing a Packers and Stockyards rule from the 2008 farm bill and whether to force the Food and Nutrition Service to allow the beneficiaries of the Special Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to use that program to buy white potatoes, The Hill noted.

Meanwhile, there are more signs that Congress will try to finish the farm bill in January.

The Senate did not take up the one-month extension of the 2008 farm bill that the House passed, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement published in Friday’s Congressional Record that the extension was not necessary and that he expects Congress to finish the bill in January.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he also expects Congress to finish the bill in January, the Rochester, Minn., Post-Bulletin reported.

And Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he believes the only remaining large item in the commodity title is payment limitations.

“As members of Congress head home for the holidays, farm bill negotiators still have a to-do list,” Grassley said in a news release.

“It’s my understanding that the last remaining issue to be resolved is my provision to place a hard cap on farm payments and close the loophole that tens of thousands of people are using claiming to be actively engaged in the business of farming,” he said. “These provisions are in both bills, and should not be subject to negotiation. They should have DO NOT TOUCH stamped across that section of the bill.

“Unfortunately, the minority in both the House and Senate who voted against these provisions are a majority on the conference committee, so it remains a fight to the end,” Grassley said. “To close loopholes for food stamps, but leave open loopholes for the biggest farmers to exploit taxpayers is the wrong way to do business. We ought to apply scrutiny and end abuse in all programs.”

House Education and Workforce ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., has also urged congressional farm leaders not to include a provision that would add white potatoes to the WIC package.

The issue of whether the completion of farm bill might be tied to an extension of unemployment benefits appears to be unresolved. Some people’s benefits expire on December 28, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., has proposed that the savings from the farm bill should be used to pay for the extension.

But Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said the two should not be linked. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants the vote on extending unemployment benefits to occur January 6 or 7, which would be before a farm bill conference could be held.