Farm Bill Conferees May Meet Thursday

January 7, 2014 08:52 AM

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Farm bill conference language could be released this week, but dairy policy, COOL still undecided


The square-like wheels of the lingering farm bill debate have finally ground to a round-level approach, with sources signaling a possible Thursday meeting of the entire farm bill conferees, with the next 36 hours important for deciding final dairy and country-of-origin labeling (COOL) language.


Ironically, food stamp funding is not the last sticking point, with sources continuing to say an agreement has been reached to cut $8.8 billion from program funding over ten years, with some language included dealing with "able-bodied worker requirements."


But it is dairy policy, and COOL that are the most contentious end-of-process issues.


Having dairy policy as a stumbling block is nothing new in farm policy, as it has been a thorny issue in the past.


But during this farm bill, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has drawn a line in the milk policy sand regarding policy ahead. Boehner continues to insist that no supply management language be in the final conference package. According to sources on both sides of the political aisle, Boehner again made his views known in several telephone conversations with House Ag Chairman and farm bill conference leader Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), and in an apparent three-way telephone conversation about dairy policy last Friday, Jan. 3, with Lucas and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).


Lucas reportedly wanted to know if there was any "wiggle room" from Boehner regarding dairy policy language. Contacts say Boehner made it clear that dairy policy was the "one issue" that he talked about regarding the farm bill and that his position "has not changed" regarding his opposition to any supply management language.


Enter Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who some veteran farm bill watchers call "the Savant of the farm bill." Leahy, steeped in dairy policy programs of the past, has frequently entered last-minute negotiations to strike a compromise. Sources say Leahy is currently discussing various dairy policy options designed to reach a compromise. One of them would alter the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program to make it an optional program alongside a likely dairy gross margin (revenue protection) program, but changed to attract larger dairy producers.


As for COOL, sources are at a loss as to what will be decided, so this is an issue that could be decided via vote among all conference panel members, as soon as Thursday.  


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