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Congress still waiting on farm bill deal

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Congress still waiting on farm bill deal
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

As conference committee negotiations over a new farm bill drag on in Congress, it’s difficult to find new topics to discuss other than when the legislation might be ready for a final vote and the president’s signature.

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Both Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., told reporters Wednesday that they hope lawmakers can meet the latest informal deadline at the end of January. They also begrudgingly acknowledged some stopgap action might be needed if Congress blows another farm bill deadline.

Johnson paused, sighed and then answered a reporter’s question on the matter: “I’m still hopeful negotiators will be able to reach an agreement shortly so we can avoid the need for any sort of extension.”

Noem said she and her fellow conference committee members have not discussed the possibility that a short-term extension of the expired 2008 bill might be needed, or how that might work.

“Everybody recognizes we need to wrap this up,” Noem said. “If we don’t meet the end-of-January deadline, it will be soon thereafter.”

She thinks USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and his staff can continue to use administrative action to stave off the implementation of 1940s-era laws that could spike milk prices and cause other market disruptions.

Most of the negotiations are being conducted by a handful of committee leaders behind closed doors, leaving specifics unknown even to members of Congress and often the conference committee itself. Noem said one more open session of the conference committee might be needed to sort out some unresolved items with up-and-down votes, including catfish inspection regulations and country-

of-origin meat labeling.

Other issues are being argued during the closed sessions, according to reports in agriculture and Capitol Hill publications. Those include dairy reforms and direct payment caps that had been passed by both the House and Senate but that lobbyists are working to water down.

Johnson said he supports the reforms already passed, especially the payment caps, which he has long argued for.

“Both the House and Senate bills contain nearly identical language, so it’s frustrating that some are still trying to change the provision. We need to maintain the accountability and legitimacy of our farm programs.”