The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Boehner: 'Fiscal cliff' negotiations now up to Senate, Obama

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio

The situation surrounding the “fiscal cliff” legislation and any possibility that the farm bill will be included in it became extremely murky today after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, failed to convince House Republicans to support his bill to extend tax rates for all but people with incomes over $1 million, sent House members home with no clear plan to return, and announced that the next steps are up to the Senate and President Barack Obama.

Boehner said he would continue to work with the Senate and the president, but he added “How we get there, God only knows.”

The shift of leadership to the Democratic-led Senate and the president raises the possibility of a year-end deal that could pass the House only with the support of House Democrats, but such a bill would make conservative House Republicans furious.

Boehner’s statement that he had to turn over leadership on the “fiscal cliff” issue to the Senate and Obama was a clear failure on his part, but he insisted today that his speakership is not in jeopardy.

While the House has gone home, many members of the Senate are planning to travel to Hawaii for the funeral of Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Senators are not expected back in Washington until Thursday, but that would still give them four days to work on legislation before the end of the year, when the 112th Congress will go out of existence.

Obama is also scheduled to go to Hawaii for Christmas, and White House officials have said they are not sure what the next move would be on “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Boehner said he will call the House back if they are needed. Both the House and the Senate will swear in new members and start the business of a new Congress on January 3. But the farm bills that have passed the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee will die on December 31 if they are not acted on.

Meanwhile, the prospect of rising milk prices got renewed media attention today in a story in The New York Times.

Milk prices may rise if a new farm bill or the dairy programs in the 2008 bill are not revived before January 1, when the Agriculture Department would be required to enforce a 1949 dairy law.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the prospect of higher dairy prices showed why Congress needs to pass a “fiscal cliff” bill that includes a farm bill.

“Fiscal cliff tax increases would hit middle class families’ pocketbooks, but so would paying six or seven dollars for a gallon of milk,” Stabenow said in a statement.

“It is absolutely critical that Congress pass a new five-year farm bill to keep food prices stable and protect America’s 16 million agriculture jobs.” she said. “The farm bill reforms programs and cuts spending by $23 billion, so including it in a final deficit reduction deal will help the country avoid the fiscal cliff.”

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Thursday he is not worried about going over the "fiscal cliff" because it is not really a cliff and that he is not worried about rising milk prices in the short run. (See following story.)

The New York Times: With Farm Bill Stalled, Consumers May Face Soaring Milk Prices