The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Lobbyist: House and Senate staffers work quietly on extension bill

A lobbyist said today that House and Senate Agriculture committee aides are working on a farm bill extension but members and staffers have been reluctant to talk about it because they have been hoping to pass the farm bill.

Neither committee would confirm that the work is taking place.

The lobbyist said the bill would be likely to extend the Milk Income Loss Contract Program and extend some of the 37 programs that have not had baseline since the farm bill expired on September 30, including disaster aid. It is unknown how an extension bill would pay for the continuation of those programs, but one possibility is that direct payments would be extended but would be trimmed to pay for the other items, the lobbyist said.

If Congress does not take action on dairy policy, a 1949 law would go into effect. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that he will have to enforce the law, which would require the government to buy milk at out-of-date prices and milk prices would go up.

If milk prices go up the lobbyist said, “all the Democrats will blame Boehner — and they will be right.”

But House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told Politico that he wants the new dairy stabilization program included in the fiscal cliff bill and will not support the overall bill without it.

“I told the White House that if the dairy bill is not in, I will oppose the debt deal,” Peterson told Politico. “I think I have 40 to 50 people who will follow me on that. I basically told the White House that you’d better be careful.”

Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told AgriTalk on Tuesday that an extension would be “better than nothing,” but that it would lead to a different baseline for writing the bill in 2013.

“Well, if we simply run out of time completely, and the 11th hour, 59th minute of talks do not really produce anything, an extension is better than nothing,” Roberts said.

“But an extension gets you a new Congressional Budget Office baseline,” he noted. “That’s the money we have to deal with. And we don’t know what happens to direct payments, we don’t know what happens under an extension. You could be facing a very dire situation of trying to write a commodity program with no money.”

“There’s also the danger — and I wanted to underscore this — with the administration sending signals in order to pay for the sequester, they’ll just take money that is going to be targeted to crop insurance and direct payments and just take the money. If they do that, that’s just going to cause a firestorm in farm country, and personally I’m very much opposed to that. I think that would be a very chaotic thing to do.”