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Congress acts to protect dairy farmers; Also to keep price of milk down

January 9, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Senate and House voted to extend parts of the expired 2008 Farm Bill through September 2013, a move that would prevent milk prices from immediately surging.

The White House fact sheet on the big fiscal deal Congress passed, of which the extension was part, has exactly one sentence about the farm bill extension. It says it will avoid the doubling of milk prices that would have kicked in automatically in the absence of any farm bill. The action was being called avoiding the “dairy cliff.”

Without this action, prices paid to dairy farmers for milk would have reverted to higher 1949 formulas, which would have nearly doubled the cost of milk at the check-out register to about $7 a gallon or more.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said she considered the slimmed down extension to be “Mitch McConnell’s version of a farm bill.” She was referring to the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky, who, she said, forced bargainers to accept the version of the farm bill that appeared in the deal with the president.

The farm bill deal came hours after an apparent deal between House and Senate agriculture leaders that would have extended the entire 2008 Farm Bill for a year. That broader deal fell by the wayside during negotiations to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff.

Earlier in the year, the Senate approved a new 2012 Farm Bill, but house Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner, were reluctant to vote on a larger five-year bill because of concerns they did not have the necessary support.

One of the areas of disagreement is the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be called the food stamp program. House Republicans wanted steep cuts to SNAP, which is the most expensive component of the farm bill.

There have been widespread disagreements as to how much the farm bill should cut spending in nutrition programs. The Senate bill would have cut SNAP by $4.5 billion, the House bill that was never voted on would have cut the program by $16 billion.