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Can Congress Avert a Plunge Off the ‘Dairy Cliff’?

Farm Bill provisions have already expired, the lame duck is nearly at an end, and the holdup hasn't been worked out.

by
Fallon Forbush

Bio

December 26, 2012 - 12:22 am
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“I think it will come down to how the overall fiscal cliff negotiations come out,” said Darisse. “One of the reasons we haven’t gotten a bill yet is that it’s very difficult to get major legislation during an election year.”

According to Darisse, both proposals contain budget savings. “I think any part of a package needs offsets to pay for things, or as part of a broader deficit package,” he said.

The Farm Bill in both chambers consolidates programs with similar goals and eliminates direct payments, payments that went to a producer based on how much land he or she farms and their historical production. “It’s a payment that they get whether or not they produce crop on that land,” Darisse said.

The two chambers have different approaches on direct payment’s replacement. “There are significant differences between the approaches, but it’s not something I think could hold the bill up,” Darisse said.

Republican leadership’s inaction has earned harsh words from Senate leadership.

Back in October, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said, “It is unbelievable that we’re in this position now where the Farm Bill will expire and create so much uncertainty for farmers, ranchers, and small businesses. The Senate came together in a bipartisan way and we passed the Farm Bill. The House Agriculture Committee came together in a bipartisan way to pass a Farm Bill. It’s absolutely unacceptable that the House Republican leadership couldn’t devote just one day to rural America and the 16 million jobs across the country that rely on agriculture.”

Even though the Farm Bill cleared a Republican-controlled committee, the sticking point within the GOP caucus is that there is a split of support: some who believe there is not enough reform and some who believe there is too much. More conservative Republicans also say the legislation allocates too much money to food stamps.

The version passed by the Senate would cut $4.5 billion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over  years, a Congressional Budget Office analysis said. The House is looking to cut $16 billion over 10 years from the program.

The number of people receiving SNAP benefits is at a record high, reaching $46.6 million as of December, according to the USDA. Whether representatives feel it is wrong to make cuts during a time when more people are asking for assistance or not, regional ties are proving to be a strong factor in deciding support for the legislation, as those representing farming districts urge their colleagues towards a vote on the House floor.

“I will continue to work with Chairman Lucas, my colleagues on the Agriculture Committee and House leadership to push for a vote on the version of the Farm Bill passed back in July by the House Agriculture Committee,” said conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) last month.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D), whose state of New York ranks first in cottage cheese production and third in mozzarella and cheddar cheese production, called on the House last week to take action before year’s end. Schumer specifically voiced concern with the reenactment of the MILC program.

According to Schumer, the dairy industry has already felt a serious negative impact from the lack of a final Farm Bill and dairy farmers are already missing out on payments from the MILC program during a time of extremely high feed prices due to the U.S. drought of 2012—the most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years, the USDA said.

“The ‘dairy cliff’ is fast approaching, and without a House Farm Bill before year’s end, it will be consumers and dairy producers alike that go over the edge,” said Schumer.

In both cases, House passage of the Senate Farm Bill is the only resolution, Schumer said.

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Fallon William Forbush is an award-winning journalist whose work has been recognized by The Ohio Newspaper Association and The Society of Professional Journalists (Central Ohio Pro Chapter) for excellence in reporting. Fallon first wrote for Hannah News Service, covering committee meetings of the Ohio Legislature before moving to Washington, D.C. He is also a practitioner of public relations with experience ranging from agency to grassroots communications. Follow Fallon on Twitter.
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