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Farm bill framework finally feasible?

This week, top negotiators on the next farm bill are expected to release a framework agreement for long-term farm policy.

A framework is possible Tuesday, with a full bill possible as early as Wednesday. However, a conference meeting hasn’t been officially scheduled, although reports swirl that conferees may meet Thursday to vote on the most contentious issues, and on approval of the final conference report.

On the conference report, House and Senate leaders have signaled they expect to bring up a conference report soon.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in a memo to House members, said both the farm bill and Water Resources Development Act conference reports represent new ideas on how government programs should work, and as soon as they’re ready for consideration, he plans on scheduling them in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects the farm bill to be completed by the end of the month; Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was even more optimistic, suggesting Congress could send a bill to the President by the second week of January.

But Congress is busy. The battle over an extension of unemployment insurance benefits is expected to take up space on the Senate’s legislative calendar this month. On top of that, House-Senate negotiators are trying to narrow their final differences over a omnibus spending bill that’s more than $1 trillion, which would fill in the blanks of December’s budget deal and avoid another shutdown. Appropriations clerks reportedly made quite a bit of progress on the bill over the holidays, but House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers and Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski must still sort out the most difficult issues.

The government is still under a stopgap continuing resolution that is set to expire January 15th. Some extension of that continuing resolution will likely be needed, but Rogers and Mikulski aim to keep any extension short so as to keep the pressure on to finish before lawmakers leave for recess in mid-January.