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Farm Bill Extension Is Added to Fiscal Agreement

The package worked out between Senate leaders and the White House to avert the fiscal cliff includes provisions to extend current farm law for the rest of fiscal 2013, avoiding a scenario that could lead to a doubling of milk prices.

The extension of programs in the 2008 farm law, which expired in September, represents a trimmed-down version of a plan proposed by Senate and House Agriculture committee leaders this weekend. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered a plan that would extend a dairy program that producers want to replace and would not include disaster assistance, according to a Senate aide.

The plan also would not fund energy provisions and other expired programs that were in the 2008 law (PL 110-246), the aide said, a decision that Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called “absolutely outrageous.”

“Without consultation with me or the chairman in the House, we now have a partial extension,” she said in an angry speech on the Senate floor. “They not only do not extend all the titles, but they do not include critical disaster assistance.”

Even so, Stabenow said after a meeting with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senate Democrats that she would vote for the fiscal cliff package (HR 8) to prevent tax increases and expiration of unemployment benefits.

The agreement that Stabenow and House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., had worked out would provide nearly $850 million in disaster aid and set up a new dairy revenue support program known as the Dairy Security Act. The disaster aid, under the committees’ deal, would be funded by a small cut in the annual direct payments that go to grain and cotton growers.

Stabenow said she and Lucas, realizing that House Agriculture’s five-year bill (HR 6083) would not be brought to the floor, decided to join together to write an extension that could still do a lot of what they originally wanted from a farm bill. She said McConnell’s decision to trim back their effort showed that “agriculture is just not a priority.”

“Where is the willingness to support farmers and ranchers across the country?” she asked. “We know we need to get things done, but we also need to make sure that in the end, we are not putting agriculture, farmers and ranchers, at a disadvantage in the process.”

McConnell’s plan, according to the Senate aide, would extend the Milk Income Loss Contract program at lower rates that took effect in September. At those rates, the program would provide no payments to farmers in 2013, said Dana Brooks, a lobbyist for the National Milk Producers Federation, which has been working to pass the new Dairy Security Act program.

After a meeting of Senate Agriculture members Monday afternoon, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., indicated that the committees’ plan faced a potential point of order in the Senate because of the way it would fund an extension of expired farm bill programs.

Stabenow dismissed that concern, saying the larger fiscal deal could draw many points of order once it reaches the floor.

House leaders also have posted a one-month extension of federal dairy support programs that could be voted on if farm provisions do not survive the fiscal cliff deal.

Emily Holden and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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