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Last gasp for 2012 farm bill

DANIEL LOOKER 11/09/2012 @ 4:03pm Business Editor

Farm groups are likely to make a push for getting a farm bill passed immediately when Congress returns to work late next Tuesday. But few are betting that a new five-year law will be passed in the lame duck session.

"We are going to do everything we can to get a farm bill passed," said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union. Johnson noted that the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) said earlier this week that he believes there are enough Democratic members of the House to pass the bill along with members of the majority party that would favor it as well.

On Thursday, Peterson released a statement urging the bill's passage.

“The election is over so it’s time to get to work. I’m optimistic that, if given the chance, we have the votes to pass a five-year farm bill. There is no good reason not to vote on the bill when we return next week, before Thanksgiving. This will give us the time we need to work out our differences with the Senate and get a new five-year farm bill signed into law by the end of the year," Peterson said. “I remain opposed to an extension of any kind for any time.”

In Monday, in an interview with Agriculture.com, the committee's chairman, Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), said he would need about four days of floor time to debate and pass the bill that his committee voted out last summer.

Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told Agriculture.com Friday that he doesn't think the House has the time to deal with a farm bill along with all of the other tax issues that must be resolved, or extended by some kind of short-term legislation into early 2013.

"The House hasn't taken this up yet and I think it would take a full week. That week doesn't exist," Hoefner said.

The House won't really get to work until Wednesday, he said, and he's not certain whether it would remain in session on Friday before breaking for the Thanksgiving recess the following week.

That likely leaves early December to deal with a host of tax issues, including the expiring Bush era tax cuts, keeping middle-class taxpayers from having to pay alternative minimum tax, an estate tax that reverts to a $1 million exemption, and a long list of tax credits that are renewed every year with "extenders." Those include credits for wind energy, biodiesel, and cellulosic ethanol. And there is the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts known as sequestration, that start next year. The combination of potentially higher taxes and spending cuts is known as the fiscal cliff. There are other issues, too, including preventing lower doctor fees for Medicare.  

Hoefner said Republican members of the House remain divided over the farm bill, with some wanting deeper cuts to food stamp spending than the $16 billion over 10 years that the House Agriculture Committee approved. And some also want to split the agricultural titles of the farm bill from the nutrition title that includes food stamp spending.

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