There will be no farm bill this year after negotiators met for an hour Friday morning but failed to seal a deal.
However, the top Senate and House negotiators were all smiling as they left the room so a deal on the $1 trillion food stamp and farm subsidy legislation could be announced after both houses of Congress return in January.
There are hints that the $35 billion gap in food stamp cuts and a dispute over whether to use planted or historical acreage to calculate farm payments could be out of the way with side issues coming more into focus.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) were set to head home for the holidays after the meeting. The Senate will stay in session next week.
Lucas said he could come back to Washington next week for further talks.
“We have set aside time if it’s necessary. There’s some issues that have to be examined by the lawyers and we’re going to discuss it,” he said.
“It was another very productive meeting. We have another couple of issues that need to be hashed out, but we’re moving right down the path,” Lucas told reporters.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowA guide to the committees: Senate Trump's pick to lead Medicare won't say if she supports negotiating prices with drug companies Overnight Finance: Fed chief tries to stay above partisan fray | Bill would eliminate consumer agency | Trump signs repeal of SEC rule on foreign payments MORE (D-Mich.) said she is very optimistic.
“There is no question in my mind that we will be able to come together and have a farm bill we can take action on in January,” she said.
Stabenow indicated that there would be no announcement of deal until both Houses are back in session next year. The House held its last vote of the year on Thursday night.
“We need to, out of courtesy, talk to our members so that really means the first week in January,” Stabenow said.
She said that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores, delayed by a snowstorm early in the week, look “very workable.”
The CBO was looking at compromise commodity subsidy proposals melding the House and Senate approaches to price-based farm payments.
“It puts us in good shape,” she said.
Lucas agreed but refused to outline the compromise.
“Your mother wouldn’t let you open your Christmas present before Christmas morning,” he chided reporters.
If the difference on the structure of the commodity subsidies is out of the way, negotiators can try to resolve other points of difference in the House and Senate-passed farm bills.
These include limits on dairy production, a limit on crop insurance subsidies tied to income, country of origin labeling for meat, Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) amendment on interstate commerce, and a catfish inspection program that targets Vietnamese imports.
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