Farm-state lawmakers have agreed to a one-year extension of the expiring US farm law that, if enacted, would head off a possible doubling of retail milk prices to $7 or more a gallon in early 2013.
The extension would end a 32-month attempt to update farm subsidies dating from the Depression era, when farmers were crushed by low prices and huge crop surpluses, to meet today’s high-wire challenges of tight food supplies, high operating costs and volatile markets.
The bill was listed among measures that could be called for a vote on Monday in the House of Representatives although action was not guaranteed.
Despite consensus on the need to extend the farm bill, lawmakers continue to discuss how long the extension should be.
Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, told reporters late on Sunday a nine-month farm bill extension was being considered as part of deal being crafted in the Senate to stave off the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that begin kicking in on Jan. 1.
“There’s good chance that if there is a package out of the Senate, it will include something on the farm bill. The easiest thing to get done would be nine months of current law,” Cole said.
A second Republican, Representative Steven LaTourette, said a nine-month extension could be part of the fiscal cliff package or could move separately if the fiscal talks fail.
House Republican leaders refused to call a vote during the fall on a full-scale, $500 billion farm bill on grounds it might fail because it did not cut spending enough.
Grain, soybean and cotton growers would get another round of the $5 billion “direct payment” subsidy that all sides agreed to kill in a new farm bill. The payments are made regardless of need. Reformers say the payments are unjustified when crop prices and farm income are at near-record levels.