By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he will offer an extension to the 2008 farm bill through the end of January. However, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the Senate would not pass it.
Still, Lucas said progress has been made in negotiations and he would file an extension by the end of Tuesday to make sure there will be no increase in dairy prices. He said he feels compelled to have the extension ready before Congress goes home. But, if it looks like Congress will take up the farm bill the first week of January, Lucas said he would be very hesitant to bring the extension to the floor for a vote.
Lucas, Stabenow and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., talked to reporters after they and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., met in Stabenow's office in the Hart Senate Office Building this afternoon.
Noting that the House is scheduled to leave Friday, Lucas said if the vote is held it will be at the last possible moment.
The Senate would not vote for a bill that would authorize the Agriculture Department to make a new round of direct payments to crop producers, Stabenow said, even though those payments would not be scheduled to be made until October.
Stabenow also told reporters earlier that she wants to keep up the pressure to finish the bill. She said the four principals hope to announce a framework agreement before the Senate leaves for the holidays on December 20, then hold the open conference meeting in early January and then pass the bill.
Progress was held up today, Stabenow said, because the person in charge of needed scores (presumably a Congressional Budget Office employee) was delayed in returning to Washington because of the weather.
Asked about rumors that the four principals have agreed on a cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of $8 billion over 10 years, Stabenow declined to comment, saying no part of the bill is done until it is all done.
Stabenow said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had assured her there would be no impact on dairy prices in January if the farm bill is not passed until some time in that month.
Peterson agreed that nothing will happen in January on dairy prices. He also said he does not believe there should be an extension, but he will hold judgment on whether he will vote for it when it comes up on the House floor.
In veiled language, Peterson signaled he believes Lucas is bringing up the extension because the House leadership wants it. Peterson said people pushing the extension have their own agenda, but Lucas has to deal with them.
The extension would be straightforward and would not contain any provision to increase dairy spending, Lucas said.
The bill passed at New Years that extended the 2008 farm bill through September 30 included some money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education account in case it was needed to deal with low dairy prices.
Since the extension expired, the Agriculture Department on January 1 technically must begin to enforce the 1949 dairy law, which would require USDA to buy milk and would result in higher milk prices for consumers.
Peterson once again declined to reveal details of a dairy deal, but said we are going to have a dairy title that works. He said it would not be the dairy amendment sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that passed the House, because that program doesn't work.
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