Short extension of farm subsidies rebuffed by Senate democrats

An extension of U.S. agriculture subsidies to late January was rebuffed by Senate Democrats, who said they won’t pass any plan sent to them by the House before the members leave Washington late this week.

“We’re not going to do an extension,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters. “If the House leadership would just stay through next week, like the Senate is staying, we would actually be able to get” new five-year farm-policy legislation.

If Congress doesn’t act before the year ends and current law expires, U.S. dairy support programs will revert to a 1949 statute that when fully implemented would double the wholesale price of milk.

The Agriculture Department hasn’t said when it could implement the law, which could take months. Lawmakers are reluctant to head home for the holidays to headlines about milk prices of $7-per-gallon in the new year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also said today the Senate won’t extend current farm law if Congress can’t agree on one before the holiday break, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, farm bill negotiations remain “unresolved,” Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican involved in the talks, said in an interview.

Cuts to food stamps, as well as changes to crop insurance programs and other farm aid, have been stumbling blocks as lawmakers seek to resolve differences in Senate and House versions of a five-year reauthorization of agricultural programs.

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Though details of the short-term measure haven’t been released, the move would give negotiators more time to reach a deal on a five-year bill. The legislation would replace direct payments to farmers with an insurance-based crop safety net, while tightening eligibility for domestic nutrition programs like food stamps.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, signaled last week that he was prepared to extend the bill for a month if negotiators didn’t finish their work in time to vote on a full farm bill by Dec. 13.

“If we’ve got to pass a one-month extension of the farm bill, I’m prepared to do that,” Boehner told reporters.

The measure could encounter opposition. Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet, a Senate farm bill conferee, called a short-term extension “a bad idea.”

“I think we should come to an agreement and pass a farm bill; it’s two years overdue,” Bennett said in an interview. He said he didn’t know if negotiations would be completed before Congress leaves for the holiday break.

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