Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- House and Senate negotiators adjourned talks on a new agricultural bill until after a congressional recess, increasing the chances of a lapse in programs that could double the price of milk next year.
"I’m disappointed we don’t have an agreement yet," Senate Agriculture Chairman Debbie Stabenow said after closed-door meetings between her, her Republican Senate counterpart and the chairman and top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee concluded. "We’ve had a number of occasions where we thought we were close, and then things changed."
Conferees met for about 90 minutes yesterday evening in a House office building, and again for an hour this morning. An unadvertised meeting in a small underground room in the Capitol broke up without a deal.
Cuts to food stamps, as well as changes to crop insurance and other farm aid, have proven difficult to reach agreement on as lawmakers seek to resolve differences in Senate and House versions of a five-year reauthorization of all U.S. agricultural programs.
The farm bill has emerged as a partisan flashpoint as House Republicans have targeted food stamps for cuts. The bill also benefits crop processors including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. by subsidizing raw-materials costs and insurance companies such as Wells Fargo & Co. along with grocers including SuperValu Inc.
Lawmakers have until the end of this year to agree on a bill in order to prevent U.S. dairy law from reverting to an anachronistic 1949 law that could double the wholesale price of milk. That deadline, known as the "dairy cliff," may not be firm as U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t yet said it would be able to immediately implement the law requiring the government to bulk-buy milk at more than double its present wholesale market price.
While several parts of the mammoth multi-year authorization are "close" to being agreed upon, Stabenow said, conferees haven’t reached a deal on cuts to nutrition aid, including food stamps, or how to craft an insurance-based federal crop safety net to replace direct payments to farmers, which they’ve agreed should end.
With the Senate leaving for a two-week congressional recess covering the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and the House out next week, conferees are now almost certain to miss a self-imposed deadline for a deal they said earlier was essential in order to pass a farm bill by year’s end.
To have adequate time to get the conference version of the bill drafted, reviewed by USDA and scored by the Congressional Budget Office in time for a vote in both chambers years end, a framework had to be agreed on by the end of this week, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas said in an interview this week.
"I don’t know what this means for getting things done," Stabenow said, adding staff-level discussions will continue.
The bill is H.R. 2642.