WASHINGTON — A New Year's deadline that could send the price of milk skyward looms over congressional negotiators as they try to reach agreement on a five-year farm bill. They've been tripped up by differences over the nation's food stamp program and how to restructure farm subsidies.
The two chambers have been far apart on both issues for more than two years. But the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees expressed optimism after a private meeting Wednesday that they may be able to find resolution in time to narrowly avert the expiration of dairy subsidies on Jan. 1. If those subsidies expire, new laws will kick in that could result in decreased dairy supply on the commercial market and higher prices for a gallon of milk.
On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said the bill should be extended through January while negotiators work out their differences.
An extension is not certain, however. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he doesn't want to extend the bill again after Congress already extended the bill at the beginning of this year.
Finding a compromise on cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program has been the toughest obstacle. The House passed a bill this summer that would cut $4 billion from food stamps annually and allow states to create new work requirements for some recipients. The Democratic Senate, backed by President Barack Obama, passed a farm bill with a $400 million annual cut, or a tenth of the House cut.