Farm bill deal close, Stabenow says

Negotiators have just a few details left before a deal on the long-awaited $1 trillion farm bill is complete. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told reporters that a framework agreement is "close" and is on track to be announced shortly after Jan. 1.

"We will announce it the first week of January. We've got to get final scores in," she said. "We have a couple of things we're negotiating on now, but we're close."

Stabenow said that no part of the farm bill, including the food stamps chapter, could be considered closed until all the other parts are agreed to. She and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) have been trying to bridge the difference between $4 billion in food stamp cuts in the Senate farm bill and $39 billion cuts in the House farm bill. 

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Sources have suggested a final deal could be closer to the Senate number but could institute pilot programs to try to encourage able-bodied adults to wean themselves from food assistance. 

The exact shape of the compromise on farm subsidies is also unknown at this stage. Negotiators were trying to reconcile a House proposal that offers a choice of a more generous price-based protection, and a Senate proposal more focused on revenue margin insurance. 

The Senate chairwoman signaled she is not pushing for farm bill deficit savings to be used to pay for an extension of unemployment insurance. 

"We need to get the farm bill done. I am a strong supporter of unemployment insurance, but that really should be in the category of disaster assistance for people, which is separate," she said. "Once we get the farm bill done, we can have a discussion on savings."

House Democrats, led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have been pushing to pay for $25 billion in jobless benefits using the farm bill.