Support grows in House for farm-bill extension to prevent ‘milk cliff’

A proposal for a one-year extension of the farm bill to prevent a spike in milk prices is gaining support among House Republicans in the waning days of the 112th Congress. 

Lawmakers discussed the issue at a House Republican conference meeting Sunday night, and members said the leadership was likely to bring up an extension Monday or Tuesday, possibly attached to legislation dealing with the “fiscal cliff.” If no deal is reached to prevent the fiscal cliff, a farm bill could be brought up as a separate measure, members said after the meeting.

“I think we’ll want to do something if it’s not in the Senate bill,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said. He said lawmakers applauded when the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), briefed them on the status of the bill during the meeting.

The extension would go until Sept. 30, a full year since farm programs lapsed because of congressional inaction.

Because Congress has failed to renew farm programs, an underlying 1949 law is slated to kick in. This would force the government to buy up American milk at inflated prices and the purchases are expected to possibly double the price of milk at the grocery store as supplies dwindle.

The possible spike in milk prices has prompted lawmakers to dub the issue the "milk cliff" to spur action at a moment when the fiscal crisis has dominated the debate in Washington.

“People want it fixed,” Cole said.

Lucas and his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), have worked in recent days to find agreement on a short-term extension as opposed to pushing a five-year farm bill that House leaders declined to bring to the floor.

Erik Wasson contributed.

Updated at 9:03 p.m.