House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) on Thursday said a deal on the farm bill is emerging, though nothing has been finalized.
He said that while finishing the bill by the time the House recesses on Dec. 13 would be “Herculean,” he does not yet want Congress to move to a one-month extension.
“As Sen. [Debbie] Stabenow [D-Mich.] says, nothing is every done until all the parts are complete. Maybe Sen. Stabenow is right,” Lucas said. “It would still be my hope that we could get all of our work done in time to not require an extension.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called for a stopgap farm measure on Thursday to avoid a spike in milk prices in early January.
But Lucas said he believes the Agriculture Department would hold off on implementing the dairy policies if a farm bill is moving through Congress.
Lucas said the farm bill negotiations are progressing, but not far enough for him to brief Boehner and other leaders on a potential deal.
“We are not far enough along in our discussions yet,” he said.
The leaders of the House-Senate farm bill conference are still awaiting Congressional Budget Office scores, including one on a potential farm subsidy compromise. Without passage of the $1 trillion farm bill or a one-month extension of the 2008 version, milk prices could spike in January.
The details of the potential compromise are murky, but Senate Democrats are widely believed to be considering abandoning their hard line against additional food stamp cuts beyond the $4 billion included in the Senate-passed farm bill.
“We are moving toward consensus,” Lucas said when asked about the food stamp program. The House originally wanted $39 billion in cuts, but appears to be willing to accept less.
A compromise also appears to be emerging on how to design the new farm subsidies in the bill. Both the House and Senate farm bills end direct payments, but they create differing substitutes that include shallow loss revenue protection and price-based supports.
Lucas confirmed that one option on the table would be using the House's price loss coverage program but basing it on the Senate's preference for historic acres, rather than actual acres planted.
“That’s one of several ideas there, but it is one of those things where you need additional scores though, since it’s never been scored,” Lucas said.
Corn and soybean growers are adamant that the planted acre formula not be used because they fear trade retaliation. Under World Trade Organization rules, farm subsidies that encourage production of certain crops can be challenged as trade distorting.
The chairman said that he would be leaving for Oklahoma on Thursday afternoon, likely leaving any deal on the farm bill for next week.
A House leadership aide said that the talks are moving too slowly to allow for a deal before the time the House leaves for its recess on Dec. 13, and that is why Boehner sees the need for an extension that avoids a milk price spike.