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Farm bill’s future remains tied to fiscal cliff negotiations

WASHINGTON — The top House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders met Dec. 4 in a sign that progress is being made in hammering out a five-year bill, but the farm bill’s future appears tied to the outcome of high-stakes tax and budget negotiations.

Politico reported that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) met “amid real signs of progress in resolving their differences over the commodity title.”

Sources say prospects of a one-year extension has dimmed on Capitol Hill, while there’s been more talk in recent days on the prospect of wrapping the farm bill into the budget deal.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said that the farm bill should be part of any agreement that reduces the federal deficit.

“Both the House and Senate agriculture committees, along with the full Senate, have passed bipartisan versions of the farm bill that will save between $23 billion and $35 billion. A compromise version of this five-year farm bill represents a smart way to cut spending that Republicans and Democrats can agree to,” Mr. Johnson said.

It is unclear, however, whether the roughly $30 billion is enticing enough for lawmakers to offset the other controversial tenets of a budget deal and adopt a farm bill.

But farmers are keeping an eye on the budget negotiations because changes are likely in the federal estate and capital gains tax.

“Pennsylvania farmers are urging Congress to take action on the farm bill, the federal estate tax and the capital gains tax before the end of the year,” Carl Shaffer, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said in a York [PA] Daily Record Dec. 5 op-ed. Farmers are facing uncertainty because it is hard to plan for the future without a new farm bill, he said.

“If lawmakers do nothing, the tax burdens could be financially destructive for many farm families, while the lack of a strong risk management program under the farm bill could place the future of many farm enterprises across the country in jeopardy,” he wrote.

The House GOP and the White House have been trading fiscal cliff proposals over the last few days with little progress. Beltway pundits predict the negotiations will go down to the wire, perhaps forcing Congress to return after the holiday break to complete action or vote to extend the deadline for the budget sequestration to allow for more debate in January.