Farm bill talks fall short

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Lawmakers negotiating on the farm bill failed to reach a deal on Thursday after an intense round of discussions.

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The leaders of the House-Senate farm bill conference committee met for an hour and half behind closed doors on Thursday morning and at one point kicked out staff from the meeting in order to have a frank discussion.

After checking in with party leaders, the negotiators met again privately in the afternoon but the talks hit a wall on the issue of food stamp cuts among other things. 

"I am very disappointed we didn't come to an agreement, so we're just going to keep working on it," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said. "We've had a number of occasions where we though we were close and then things changed."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) had said he was hoping to set a framework this week in order to pass a farm bill conference agreement in the House before Congress adjourns for the year on Dec. 13.

But now an agreement on the $1 trillion measure is unlikely to be reached this month.

Stabenow said members do not plan to meet again this week, but staff will work over the weekend and into next week. The House has already left for Thanksgiving recess and the Senate will start a two-week break on Friday.

The 2008 farm bill expired on Oct. 1, but farmers will not feel most effects until the spring planting season. A notable exception is milk policies, which will cause a spike in milk prices in January without a new farm bill.

The measure covers the approximately $750 billion food stamp program, which remains the thorniest issue in the talks.

Stabenow said that the negotiators should not cater to "the people in the House for whom nutrition is the top issue," a reference to conservatives who want the $39 billion in food stamp cuts in the House bill or more. 

"They are not people who are going to vote for a farm bill either way," she said. The Senate bill has $4 billion in cuts on top of $11 billion that went into effect Nov. 1.

"When you add to that, I am not interested in doing that in a way that will hurt families that legitimately have a crisis," she said. 

Republicans have pointed out previously that the $11 billion change has already occured so it cannot be scored by the Congressional Budget Office as savings under the current farm bill. They have also pointed out that the expiration of the stimulus food stamp spending had been passed by Democrats when they were in the House majority. 

She said that there are many parts of the farm bill that are very close to being resolved, but a total agreement won't be sealed until all the major differences are addressed.

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