WASHINGTON -- Hoping to stave off the expiration of dozens of farm programs and a return to an antiquated 1949 farm law that could lead to a doubling of the price of milk, Senate and House leaders worked Friday to devise legislation that would extend the current farm bill.
The most recent farm bill, passed in 2008, expired on Sept. 30. If a new bill is not passed or the current one extended by Tuesday, farm programs would lose billions of dollars in financing and would revert to the 1949 law. The old law would reintroduce higher government price supports for milk, corn, rice, wheat and other crops and could lead to higher consumer prices and federal spending.
Congressional aides say the extension could be for a year, giving farmers, who have been battered by the worst drought in 50 years, a reprieve after lawmakers were unable to come up with a new farm bill.
The Senate passed a farm bill, but the House failed to bring up its version for a vote after Republicans split over the size of the cuts to nutrition programs.
The rush to get an extension comes after Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders failed to get the White House and Congressional Republicans to include a new farm bill as part of a deficit deal.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, had repeatedly said she was opposed to an extension. But with little time left before dozens of farm programs expired and the 1949 law kicked in, she called an extension the best possible solution for helping farmers.
An extension would most likely wipe out billions of dollars in savings that lawmakers in both the Senate and House had achieved by cutting some farm and nutrition programs. The Senate bill would have saved about $23 billion. About $4.5 billion in savings would have come from cuts to the food stamp program.
The bill would have also cut direct payments to farmers, which cost about $5 billion a year. Direct payments are made to farmers whether they grow crops or not. A House bill would have had four times the amount of cuts to the food stamp program. It would also have cut direct payments, which have been criticized by liberals and conservatives as wasteful spending.nation
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.