Fight Over Dairy Plan Deadlocks New Farm Bill

Jan 16, 2014

An ongoing disagreement between the Senate and the House has stalled a new federal Farm bill, and the deadlock could cause major upheaval in the dairy industry if a compromise plan isn’t agreed to by the end of the month.

The Senate and the House Agriculture committee have agreed to a new dairy plan that allows farmers to sign up for an insurance program that protects farmers when prices fall below the cost of production.

"The fact is it is voluntary, it has a sunset provision in it, we ought to give it a try." - Senator Patrick Leahy, on a new Vermont sponsored dairy plan

Farmers who enroll in this program must also agree to reduce production when there’s a surplus of milk.  But House Speaker John Boehner opposes this approach and calls it “a Soviet style dairy program.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is leading the Senate effort to adopt the new dairy plan. He says Boehner’s analysis is dead wrong.

“The fact is it is voluntary it has a sunset provision in it we ought to give it a try,” said Leahy. “Certainly the farmers I talked with around Vermont much prefer this to the system that Speaker Boehner and others support.”

The Senate and House also disagree over the future of the Food Stamp program. The Senate bill cuts this program by $4 billion over the next five years while House leaders are pushing for $30 billion in cuts. Leahy is still optimistic that these disagreements can be resolved.

“It’ll get resolved. It’s just who blinks first. We have the votes in the Senate,” he said. “Right now we have the votes in the House, it's whether they’ll knuckle under the Speaker and the lobbyists or whether they’ll stick with the farmers. It’s really that simple a choice.”

If a compromise isn’t reached by the end of the month, a 1940s dairy pricing law will go into effect. If this happens, it’s estimated that there will be ten-fold increase in consumer milk prices virtually overnight.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said this outcome could devastate the nation’s dairy industry because it would drastically drive down consumption.

“That would be outrageous because obviously the 1940s law has no relevance to 2014. So this is just Washington dysfunction and up against the wall politics,” said Welch. “So that should not happen but if it does it would be totally a result of the insistence of one person in Congress, Speaker Boehner.”

Welch says he thinks the full House would support the new dairy plan, but he says he’s not sure how to get the legislation to the floor for a vote as long as Speaker Boehner opposes the bill.