Boehner to Peterson: If Dairy Supply Management Language in Farm Bill, 'I Won't Bring It Up' on House Floor

January 8, 2014 02:30 AM

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Dairy policy battle escalates

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Farm bill dairy policy issues reached a critical point on New Year's Eve, sources advise, with House Ag Chairman and farm bill conference leader Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) calling House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the topic.

Looking for some wiggle room. Contacts familiar with the conversation say that Lucas in essence asked Boehner whether or not there was any "wiggle room" regarding helping Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Ag panel and the major lawmaker pushing supply management language to be included in the dairy program title.

Read my lips, Boehner style. Boehner's response to Lucas made it very clear that the House Speaker had not changed at all his fierce opposition to dairy supply management. Boehner said his view had not changed and "this was the one" farm bill issue he had commented on during several occasions.

Then last Friday, Jan. 3, Lucas called Boehner again, asking for a three-way telephone call with Peterson. The resulting three-way call initially had Peterson talking for around 15 minutes, frequently mentioning the need for dairy supply management language. Boehner, sources confirmed, just listened.

Then Peterson reportedly said, "Well, John, we may have to see what happens if we just call this report up with supply management language included." Boehner, contacts informed, said if that were to happen, "I would not bring it (farm bill conference report) up for a House vote."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is reportedly working on various dairy policy options, and having them scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), as a potential way around the dairy policy hurdle.

Comments: If the eventual dairy policy language is not to Peterson's liking, the question then is whether or not he would vote for the overall conference report because of just one issue, and if so, how many other Democratic members would follow any such development. With most conservative Republicans expected to vote no on any coming farm bill conference report, the measure will need more than a few Democratic votes to win House approval.

So we now have a potential "dairy cliff" farm bill crisis. And there are some signs this is becoming a steep election-year, political issue as both sides privately are wondering which party would be blamed the most for any farm bill conference report failure. If this does falter again, then the sky-high milk price talk will be make front-page and cable news headlines as efforts would have to be made to again extend the 2008 Farm Bill. However, doing that with this Congress would be no easy task. A coming Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline update in early February could show that if the 2008 Farm Bill is extended, corn producers would garner some $6 billion in taxpayer subsidies via an attractive ACRE program for the 2014 crop safety net option. If so, that could perhaps limit the decline in corn plantings that some are forecasting. But that would also clearly show ACRE would skew plantings and would be noticed by several WTO member countries.

But for now, farm bill negotiators are suddenly quiet -- something they have not been for a long time. That usually means progress is being made and a deal is near. But as the multiyear farm bill negotiations have shown, any predictions on this topic can make the most seasoned observer look foolish.



NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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