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Audio: 15 days, not enough votes

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The clock in Washington is ticking as Congress’ lame duck session hits the 15-days-left mark today. With three weeks left before they adjourn for the year, and not every day a legislative day, agricultural leaders have promised to do everything they can to pass a new farm bill that could help reduce the national deficit. Without a new farm bill, agricultural law reverts back to permanent law, in cluding the 1949 statute that means a sharp increase in milk prices on January 1. During a Thursday meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Senate and House Ag Committee leaders united in a push for a comprehensive bill. However, there doesn’t seem to be enough time for the House and Senate to reconcile their differences regarding the size of cuts in both crop subsidies and food stamps. Some ag lobbyists believe lawmakers will vote for an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, but some, such as National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, say it would be easier to add a five-year bill into a deficit package. Vilsack says the Obama Administration wants a five-year bill in order to allow farmers and agribusinesses to plan their spending for future years.

In either case, work on the farm bill so far has been months of hearings, negotiations, and committee meetings, – and now it appears House GOP Leader Eric Cantor may have closed the book on a 2012 Farm Bill in the 112th Congress. Cantor had the following response when asked in a regular end-of-the-week exchange with the Democratic Whip about the farm bill.

It’s an even more ambiguous answer than Cantor gave Democrat Steny Hoyer before the pre-election recess. Then, Cantor indicated that he and the Speaker would find a way to deal with the “issue” of the farm bill. And Cantor this time repeated an earlier assessment, but with fewer than 10-legislative days left before Christmas Break.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer reminded Cantor that without action, support prices would go up dramatically on January 1st, when farm law reverts to 1949 statute. American Farm Bureau officials say such a scenario can be averted with a few words in a major bill, like a grand bargain to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. But that grand bargain may or may not include a full-extension of the lapsed 2008 farm law, and the many reforms and savings in the Senate-passed 2012 bill will also be lost.