Negotiators see signs of farm bill progress

The main farm bill negotiators emerged from their first face-to-face meeting in nearly two weeks on Wednesday more optimistic they will reach an agreement.
 
 
“Staff are doing some work on specifics and scores and so on, but we are making great progress,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCoal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee The Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight MORE (D-Mich.), who flew into town despite the Senate recess to hold talks.
 
She said negotiators could meet again Wednesday once budget scores on new proposals are finished. 
 
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) concurred.
 
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“We have made great progress, we have more progress to make,” he said.
 
 
“We are going to work together on a bipartisan basis and get things done,” she said.
 
Negotiators were mum on exactly what was discussed, but they said that all titles of the $1 trillion measure were under discussion, including the key food stamps title. 
 
The House and Senate are some $35 billion apart on food stamp cuts in the bill and Senate Democrats have been trying to hold the line at only $4 billion in cuts. 
 
“We are narrowing differences in every part of the bill,” Stabenow told reporters.
 
Farm bill conferree Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeLuján will have 'assistant Speaker' title Insurgent Dems amplify push for term limits on party leaders Nancy Pelosi's incredible comeback MORE (D-Ohio) said she believes disputes over farm subsidies and not over food stamps are holding up the bill. She said in the end, enough members of the House GOP are willing to accept far less than the $39 billion in food stamp cuts in order to pass a bill.
 
"One of the reasons I am so optimistic is that everybody thought the food stamps was going to be the hold up in the bill. It's not. It's the commodity title that's the hold up in the bill," she said.
 
She noted that farm lobbyists from corn and soybean sectors are fighting with wheat producers while sugar and dairy subsidies have not yet been worked out.
 
But on food stamps, there can be agreement more easily.
 
"I think that all of us understand what House Republicans were asking is not even being considered. Nobody is doing $40 billion, nobody is doing $20 billion," she predicted.
 
House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Mich.) was dour going into the meeting, but said afterward that progress on all fronts has him more optimistic. He said he was not sure if a deal could be announced on Wednesday.
 
Lucas said this week a framework could be agreed to this week, allowing staff to draft a farm bill to be voted on in January. Congress would be under increased pressure in the new year to do a farm bill as milk prices could spike with the expiration of the current milk subsidy program. 
 
Negotiators were still trying to make progress on the commodity title this week including on the debate over how to calculate the payments farmers receive. Before Thanksgiving, corn and soybean growers said they preferred an extension of the existing 2008 farm bill rather than allow planted acres to be used to calculate risk. These growers worry that using actually planted acres rather than historical planting would affect planting decisions and market prices.
 
To try to bring K Street together, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Wednesday urged all sides to get behind a compromise rather than allow the farm bill to fail. 
 
“We must move forward. It is time to let our leaders lead. The American Farm Bureau Federation will do what it can to help close ranks on any remaining issues -- for the good of the whole of American agriculture, consumers, our hard-working farm and ranch families and the rural communities they support,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement.