House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas late Tuesday confirmed he will file a request for a short-term extension on the 2008 Farm Bill to avoid reverting to permanent law and provide more time for completing negotiations on a five-year bill.
Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, issued the statement following a meeting which included him and the three other key farm bill negotiators – Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Lucas said the group has made "great progress" and "continue to have productive meetings," but there are some outstanding issues that the group is confident can be resolved between now and January.
Lucas noted the extension plan would ease concerns about the effects of permanent law, which will kick in Jan. 1 if Congress does not act. The change could have a big impact on consumers, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has warned, as the law mandates higher government price supports for dairy products, translating to higher prices at the grocery store.
"Concurrent with our ongoing discussions this week, I will file legislation to extend the current farm bill through January to allow us to finish our work without the threat that permanent law will be implemented," Lucas' statement said. "Having this option on the table is the responsible thing to do in light of our tight deadline."
House Speaker John Boehner favors the extension plan, first suggesting the option last week. But the Senate isn't necessarily on board. In a series of Tweets Tuesday, the committee advised that an extension isn't needed.
"We are making good progress on the #FarmBill. We don't need an extension - we can get this done next week," one Tweet said.
Two others, following immediately after the first, said direct payments will be the hold-up.
"A short-term extension could allow direct payments to continue. That's not going to happen. #FarmBill," the second Tweet said. The third and final tweet noted, "The Senate won't pass an extension that sneaks in another year of direct payments. #FarmBill."
Tensions have been high this week as the finish line for the farm bill gets closer, however lawmakers still wait on a Congressional Budget Office estimate on the costs of proposed legislation.
According to a Wall Street Journal article released Tuesday, lawmakers extended their wait as a winter storm targeted the Northeast, resulting in a brief D.C. shutdown on weather-related issues. The storm kept a CBO employee away from work, the article said, delaying the cost estimate.
"Mother Nature's pretty wicked lately," Lucas told WSJ's Kristina Peterson. "It's just unfortunate Mother Nature chose to pick on my CBO person."
Aside from the questions of cost and direct payments, legislators have been grappling broadly with Title 1 programs. Pundits suspect that the legislators are getting closer to a deal that uses some form of base acres for both the shallow loss program and target prices for the House and Senate versions.
Lawmakers will adjourn at the end of the week for December recess.