Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) spoke in detail about the fiscal cliff and the Farm Bill on the Senate floor this evening. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) also took part in the discussion.
Sen. Merkley noted in part that agricultural disaster assistance was not included in the Sandy supplemental and was promised as part of the Farm Bill. To listen to the discussion he was referencing, which occurred on Friday on the Senate floor, just click here (MP3- 5:25).
David Rogers reported yesterday morning at Politico (“3 bills take aim at milk prices”) that, “With just days left, House Republicans continued to struggle Saturday night over how to untangle themselves from a New Year’s imbroglio over dairy policy and their refusal to allow floor debate on a more comprehensive five-year alternative in this session of Congress.
“Absent some action, an outdated 1949 farm law kicks back in on Tuesday, Jan. 1, requiring the Agriculture Department to begin buying up dairy products at a rate of $38.54 per hundredweight, or more than double the prevailing price today.
“No one truly knows the full impact at the grocery story, but the threat of $6 per gallon of milk brought President Barack Obama off the sidelines Friday and accelerated efforts to find a fix to be voted on as early as Monday.”
(Note that recent news items on the dairy issue can be found here (NBC “Today” show on Saturday), here (front page of Saturday’s Des Moines Register), and here (Op-Ed in today’s Wall Street Journal)).
In his article yesterday, Mr. Rogers explained that, “Toward this end, not one but three different bills were posted Saturday night on the House clerk’s website, each a candidate for action but also adding to the confusion as to the direction the House will take.
From the NBC “Today” show on Saturday: “‘Imagine if Wisconsin cheddar costs more than imported French brie,’ said NBC’s Stephanie Gosk. ‘What would that mean for the average grilled cheese?’ The dairy industry is calling the possibility of the rising milk prices the ‘milk cliff.’ Just like tax rates, the price of milk could go way up if a farm bill isn’t approved by Jan. 1.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “With President Barack Obamashowing new interest, House and Senate Agriculture committees are drafting a short-term farm bill extension to avert a spike in milk prices next month but also permit another round of direct cash payments to already profitable growers — a costly subsidy that lawmakers had vowed to end this year.
“Without some action, an outdated 1949 farm law will kick back in on Jan. 1 requiring the Agriculture Department to buy up dairy products at a rate of $38.54 per hundredweight, or more than double the current prevailing price. Secretary Tom Vilsack risks being sued however he chooses to implement the policy, but consumers could see a real impact at the grocery store in a matter of weeks.
“That potential milk crisis has caught the attention of the president, who is coming off the sidelines after largely ignoring the farm debate all year.”
From The Washington Post Online, Friday, Dec. 28- “If a sweeping farm bill isn’t renewed by Congress in the next few days, milk prices could skyrocket in 2013. Business policy reporter Jia Lynn Yang stops by to explain just what’s at stake as we approach the ‘dairy cliff.’”
Janet Hook and Carol E. Lee reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress and the White House took small steps toward breaking the budget impasse Thursday, but Democrats and Republicans grew increasingly fearful they won’t be able to avert the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, a prospect that is unnerving consumers and investors.
“President Barack Obama invited congressional leaders to the White House on Friday afternoon for a last-ditch effort to broker a deal, as the Senate returned to Washington on Thursday. House GOP leaders said in a Thursday conference call with Republicans, who are growing nervous about their party being blamed for the deadlock, that the House will reconvene Sunday evening.
“It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January.”
The Journal writes noted that, “At best, leaders are looking at a narrow bill that could be passed at the last minute. At the meeting Friday, Mr. Obama will outline the elements he thinks should be in a deal and could get majority support in both chambers of Congress, according to a person familiar with the matter. He won’t put forward a specific bill or legislative language, the person added.”
Budget: A Bungee-Jump Over the Cliff? — Hurricane Sandy Measure
Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer reported in today’s New York Times that, “With just five days left to make a deal, President Obama and members of the Senate were set to return to Washington on Thursday with no clear path out of their fiscal morass even as the Treasury Department warned that the government will soon be unable to pay its bills unless Congress acts.
“Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, adding to the building tension over how to handle a year-end pileup of threatened tax increases and spending cuts, formally notified Congress on Wednesday that the government would hit its statutory borrowing limit on Monday, raising anew the threat of a federal default as the two parties remained in a standoff.
“Mr. Geithner wrote that he would take ‘extraordinary measures’ to keep the government afloat but said that with so much uncertainty over the shape of the tax code and future government spending he did not know how long the Treasury could shuffle accounts before the government could no longer pay its creditors.”
On Christmas Day, the stalled Farm Bill was highlighted on the CBS Evening News.
An audio replay of the segment can be heard here (MP3- 2:10), while a transcript is reproduced below. A video replay of the full CBS Evening News program from Tuesday is also included below.
Farmers will also feel the impact if lawmakers fail to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff. A multibillion dollar aid bill may be a casualty of the stalemate. The ripple effects would be felt far from the fields. We asked Anna Werner to look into that.
ANNA WERNER, CBS CORRESPONDENT: Eagle Lake, Texas depends on rice. It`s been grown here since the 1800s. Drought is usually the biggest threat, but the nervous talk in the drugstore now is about Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without the farm bill, it really makes it uncertain for what you should do next year.
WERNER: Steve Ballast (ph) is a pharmacist here and a rice farmer. The people are nervous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nervous.
WERNER: What are they saying when they`re coming in? What are you hearing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we do? You know, they don`t know what to do. It`s so uncertain right now that the banks don`t know what to do. The farmers don`t know what to do. They`re out there plowing the land, getting it all prepared for next year. With total uncertainty.
WERNER: At stake, $154 billion in federal farm aid and crop insurance, sidelined by the fiscal cliff stalemate. Benefits from the farm bill also guarantee rice farmer L.G. Ronn (ph) that his costs are covered when crops are bad or demand drops.
So you`d be out of it if there was no subsidy?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will be looking for another job, absolutely.
WERNER: Because you just can`t make enough money to make a go of it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those risks are too great. I could lose it all. If the market, if I plant rice and the market price is $12, and the next four months it goes down to $6, I`ve lost $1 million during that time period. I can`t sustain that. I`m broke in one year.
WERNER: The farm bill impacts much more than rural America. 80 percent of the bill`s $1 trillion in spending covers food stamps, school lunches, forest conservation, and renewable fuels.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we`re sitting right here in limbo, waiting on our lame-duck Congress to see if actually they will take up and reauthorize the new farm bill.
WERNER: He needs answers soon. The planting season is just weeks away. Anna Werner, CBS News, Eagle Lake, Texas.
Bloomberg writer Brian K. Sullivan reported recently that, “The drought that covers almost 62 percent of the contiguous U.S. states is second in size only to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and may continue into 2013 in the southern Great Plains, government climatologists said.
“Forecast models suggest an area from parts of western Kansas south into Texas and west to New Mexico will probably see the drought continue until at least March, said David Unger, a meteorologist at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.”
The Bloomberg article pointed out that, “Drought conditions now cover 61.79 percent of the 48 contiguous U.S. states and 51.7 percent of the entire country, including Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“There is a chance the Ohio River valley will have above- average levels of rain and snow this winter, alleviating dryness in the soil before spring arrives, Unger said.
“The drought is one of 11 natural disasters that cost more than $1 billion in 2012, said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.”
Janet Hook and Carol E. Lee reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama on Friday tried to break the capital’s partisan budget impasse by urging congressional leaders to pass a stripped-down budget plan and put off until next year broader efforts to enact long-term deficit reduction [full remarks here].
“He spoke as lawmakers and the White House tried to find a new way forward in stalled negotiations designed to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff,’ the mix of year-end tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take place in less than two weeks.
“Mr. Obama told reporters he was seeking quick action on a compromise bill that would extend current tax rates for middle income taxpayers and extend an expiring program of unemployment benefits.”
Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “Forget the fiscal crisis and the automatic budget cuts. Come Jan. 1, there is a threat that milk prices could rise to $6 to $8 a gallon if Congress does not pass a new farm bill that amends farm policy dating back to the Truman presidency.
“Lost in the political standoff between the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans over the budget is a virtually forgotten impasse over a farm bill that covers billions of dollars in agriculture programs. Without last-minute Congressional action, the government would have to follow an antiquated 1949 farm law that would force Washington to buy milk at wildly inflated prices, creating higher prices in the dairy case. Milk now costs an average of $3.65 a gallon.”
From Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R., Kan.)- “On Thursday, December 20, I spoke on the House floor against raising the estate tax to 55 percent and dropping the exemption to $1 million, because of the negative impact it would have on family farmers, especially those in Kansas.”