House and Senate negotiators are poised to punt work on a long-term farm bill to the new year, as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas submitted legislation Tuesday to extend current crop subsides for one month through January.
The 2008 farm bill expired last year without a replacement, though coverage for most federal agriculture-related programs has been extended through 2013.
The House and Senate have passed competing five-year farm bills – both costing about $500 billion — and negotiators have been meeting behind closed doors for weeks to work out a compromise. But pessimism has grown in recent days that the two sides were far apart and wouldn't reach a deal by the end of the year, a notion fueled by House Speaker John Boehner's comment Thursday that he hadn't seen "any real progress" on the talks.
Lucas, R-Okla, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had hoped to have a deal struck before Congress' December break. But with the House scheduled to recess for the rest of 2013 at week's end, Lucas' move Tuesday suggests a one-month extension is eminent.
"We will be ready to vote in January," Stabenow said after meeting with Lucas on Tuesday.
While many agriculture subsidy programs have broad bipartisan support, a handful of farm bill-related items — particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called the food stamp program — have stalled passage of a five-year farm bill since last year.
Negotiators also have focused on cracking down further on a practice in some states of giving low-income people as little as $1 a year in home heating assistance, even when they don't have heating bills, in order to make them eligible for increased food stamp benefits. The Senate has proposed that states have a $10 heating assistance threshold for such eligibility, for a $400 million savings. The House wants that requirement doubled to $20 annually, bringing the savings to around $800 million a year.
Most crop farmers wouldn’t feel a sharp pinch without a farm deal — whether long-term or temporary — until the 2014 growing season kicks in. But for dairy farmers, who "harvest" their product daily, the adverse effects of having no deal would be felt immediately on Jan. 1.
If that happens, farm advocacy groups say the price of a gallon of milk would soon double.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.