House and Senate negotiators working to finish a farm bill say it is unlikely their work will be completed before the end of the year. The House is only in session for the rest of the week, and according to one of the negotiators, this week's snowy weather has delayed some numbers-crunching needed to figure out how much elements of a possible deal will cost.
"We're going to pass it in January," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., as she left a closed-door meeting to negotiate details of the five-year farm bill.
Her House counterpart, Frank Lucas, R-Okla., stood next to her, nodding.
"I believe that's the scenario that you'll see," said Lucas.
They didn't get into details about where differences remain, but funding for SNAP, formerly called food stamps, and the structure of commodity programs have been sticking points.
One reason they were rushing to get it done before the end of the year is what's known as the "dairy cliff," a risk of soaring milk prices. Without a farm bill, dairy policy will revert to 1949 law, and wholesale milk prices could double. But Stabenow insists it won't happen immediately.
"I'm confident, talking with the secretary of agriculture just a little while ago, that we have no impacts on dairy in January," said Stabenow.
Lucas is planning to introduce a short-term extension of the 2008 farm bill that would last through the end of January. But he said he'd only want the House to vote on it if it looked like the two chambers were still too far apart in negotiations as this week comes to the close. And Stabenow says a short-term extension won't fly in the Senate.
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