Negotiatiors are working out a compromise on the dairy program — the biggest barrier to action on the farm bill — and a resolution could clear the way for Congress to pass the long-delayed legislation right after next week's recess, according to The Hagstrom Report, a leading agricultural newsletter.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told The Hagstrom Report he believes a dairy program that he can accept is almost done, and that it will pave the way for House leadership to bring the farm bill to the floor the week of Jan. 27 and be finished before the House adjourns two days later for the Republican retreat.
Since President Obama is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union on the evening of Jan. 28, that likely means the vote would be on the morning of Jan. 29.
Peterson stressed he has not accepted any deal yet. "While the proposed concept at least appears to move in the right direction and may be something I could reluctantly support, without further details a lot still needs to be worked out," he told The Report.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has not yet made a statement on the bill's status, but a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner — who had said the bill would not come up if it included a "Soviet-style" supply management program — told The Hagstrom Report that Boehner "is hopeful we have a way to move forward."
Peterson said that the other big remaining farm-bill issues — rules on payment limits and the definition of "actively engaged" farmers — are "being worked on," but that he is not involved in those negotiations.
Peterson has not seen the dairy language, but said he has had "verbal communication" describing it.
"It's not the worst thing in the world," he said. "It's not what I wanted. I won't be happy, but I won't hold the bill up over it."
He said both Lucas and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had "abandoned" him in his quest to keep in the bill what dairy farmers call market stabilization and what dairy processors call supply management, and that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also become "involved" in the process.
Under the proposal, Peterson said, the margin insurance that is already in the House and Senate bills would remain exactly as is, but if the margin between price and cost of production becomes too tight, dairy producers would get a signal not to increase production.
That signal would be either through elimination or reduction of payments or through an increase in the premium for the margin insurance, but that decision has not been finalized, Peterson said. The market stabilization/supply management provision would not be in the bill, he noted.
There would not be price supports or an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract Program in the bill, he said, but there may be an increase in the government's ability to buy milk.
Peterson said he does not know whether the 41 farm-bill conferees will hold a public meeting, and noted that it is not legally necessary because there has been one public meeting.
Asked what will happen to other proposals — repealing country-of-origin labeling for red meat; repealing the law that moves catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration to USDA; repealing USDA's ability to make certain changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act; and the amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to forbid states from banning food sales based on production methods in other states — Peterson shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
Peterson said when he met with Boehner, he told the speaker: "You and I are both getting screwed." Asked by The Hagstrom Report by who or what, Peterson said, "By the process."