Dairy Differences Draw Out Farm Bill

DC Dialogue

Boehner and Peterson again square off on how to handle supply management in farm bill's dairy title.

Published on: January 10, 2014

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., don't see eye to eye on dairy policy.

That might be an understatement.

But hopes of a final farm bill conference coming to the floor could see how much the one would do to get their way and leaves House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in a predicament forced to choose between success on the House floor or again abandoning his colleague Peterson in the final hours of farm bill passage.

The Senate-passed bill has a new program offering farmers profit-margin insurance for dairy producers and would require producers who voluntarily enter the program agree to cut milk production if the price should fall below a set amount.  Similar language passed in the House Agriculture Committee bill, with the strong support of Peterson, but was stripped from the version on the House floor via an amendment offered by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Score for Boehner.

In a letter to the top four farm bill principals, amendment sponsors Goodlatte and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., wrote to underscore the position of the House, reminding leaders that the House voted to strip the supply management provisions by a bipartisan vote of 291-135, including 196 Republicans and 95 Democrats.

They added that the House's dairy language would be better for the majority of the nation's dairy farmers. They state that 90% of U.S. dairy farmers have fewer than 200-250 cows, and they would be treated better under their amendment.

"Support of our amendment will help bring the Farm Bill negotiations to a successful conclusion, just as support for supply management would stand in the way of the Farm Bill's conclusion," the Congressmen wrote.

Asked directly during his weekly conference if Boehner would block the farm bill conference report from coming back to the House floor if it did include supply management language, Boehner suggested Lucas would protect him from having to make that decision.

“I am confident the conference report will not include supply management in the dairy program,” Boehner said.

Could this mean Boehner would not allow any farm bill conference to come to the floor if it includes his despised supply management component? Lucas again has been cornered with potentially no way to escape.

Lucas said that the lead conferees have been working on a compromise that would satisfy both Boehner and Peterson but they are “just not there yet.”

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said it would be a "shame" if the Speaker tried to stop the farm bill at this point. She's trying to urge all sides to back down and agree to a dairy compromise.

"I'm hopeful that the Speaker will take a look at the fact his proposal … would cost billions of dollars more in taxpayer money, which is certainly not something we want," Stabenow was quoted as saying in The Hill's On the Money blog. "There certainly are compromises if people are willing to do that."

Both chambers are set to recess for a week Jan. 17, which could draw out any action on the bill until the week of Jan. 27. Again we're at an impasse and waiting to see if legislators will find a compromise or derail progress.