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Too soon for farm bill extension

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 02/17/2012 @ 2:56pm Business Editor

Farm groups are getting nervous about the odds of a new farm bill getting done before the current one expires this year.
But the Senate started hearings on the next bill this week and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) is hardly ignoring the issue, even though his committee is a few steps behind.
Lucas told Agriculture.com earlier this week that he checks frequently with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on when his committee will have its budget prepared for agricultural spending in 2013.
Lucas said he needs that information before his committee can mark up a farm bill to send to the House floor for a vote.
He doesn’t yet know when that will be.
“I have a suspicion by the end of March, but I’m not certain,” he said.
Actually passing a farm bill this year would be unusual.
“In my soon-to-be 18 years in Congress, we’ve never passed a farm bill on time,” he said.
If Congress doesn’t pass a farm bill, it would have until the end of September to extend the current law for another year, he said. Otherwise, farm legislation would revert to the a 1949 law that has commodity allotments and is viewed as archaic and unworkable by most people in the agricultural sector of the economy.
“I believe it’s too early to talk about an extension,” Lucas told Agriculture.com
If Congress isn’t going to be able to finish a farm bill this year, Lucas said his committee would need to know by late spring or early summer if it needs to be preparing an extension of the current farm bill.
“We’ll know by that point whether the trajectory is there” (for finishing a new farm bill), he said.
Some farm group lobbyists believe that the next farm bill got a head start from the work that ag committee leaders finished last fall on a farm bill for the deficit cutting Super Committee and members of the Senate Ag Committee agree.
After that, Lucas and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) seem to have a good working relationship.
“I was very impressed working with her last fall,” Lucas said this week. “I believe if she can move a Senate farm bill out, she’ll move Heaven and Earth to try.”

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