By Erik Wasson - 11/25/13 01:26 PM EST
The top leaders of the House-Senate farm bill conference committee plan to hold a pivotal conference call on Monday.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the respective heads of the Senate and House Agriculture committees, and the committees' ranking members Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) will join the negotiating session.
The "big four" leaders are still trying to hammer out a farm bill deal in order to move the $1 trillion agriculture subsidy, crop insurance and food stamp bill on the House and Senate floor in December.
Peterson told a Fargo, N.D., radio station on Friday that if enough progress is made, an open conference meeting could be called Dec. 4, according to a detailed transcript by farmpolicy.com.
The Senate is supposed to be in recess next week, so the session would require a change in travel plans. The House plans to recess Dec. 13, while the Senate could be in session until Dec. 20, according to a leadership aide.
Last week, the big four were closing in on a deal after three major meetings within 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday. Problems remain both in the commodity title, which governs farm payments, and on food stamps.
The Senate bill cuts food stamps by $4 billion, while the House bill cuts $39 billion. A complicating factor in the talks has been the food stamp cliff of $11 billion in cuts that went into effect with the expiration of the Obama stimulus on Nov. 1. Democrats want to count that savings in order to argue for holding the line at $4 billion in additional cuts. House negotiators say they are willing to come down from their number but need more that $4 billion in cuts.
Peterson said Friday that it is still up in the air if a farm bill can be done soon.
"Stabenow and Lucas were pretty dug in, and there was not a communication going on," he told Fargo radio. "Right now, it’s hard to be optimistic. I’ve been up and down hour by hour this week."