Democrat Ag Leaders Take Different Stance on Cliff

Averting the fiscal cliff is now up to the Senate and President Obama. Senators are expected back in Washington Thursday and will have just four days to work on legislation before the year comes to a close.

House Speaker John Boehner - after failing to get a vote on his bill to extend tax rates for all those with income under a million dollars - sent House members home with no clear plan to return. He said he would call the House back if needed.

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow continues to call for the inclusion of a farm bill in a fiscal cliff bill. She says the prospect of rising dairy prices is one reason to do so. She said fiscal cliff tax increases would hit the pocketbooks of middle class families - and so would six or seven-dollar milk.

Stabenow continued that it is critical to pass a new five-year farm bill to keep food prices stable and to protect the nation's 16-million ag jobs. She also noted that the Senate-passed bill cuts spending by 23-billion dollars - so including it in a final deficit reduction deal would help the country avoid the fiscal cliff.

House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson - on the other hand - said he isn't worried about going over the fiscal cliff or about rising milk prices in the short run.

In an interview on AgriTalk - Peterson objected to the terminology of 'going over the cliff.' According to Peterson - there is no cliff. He said if everything expires - nothing dramatic happens.

Peterson said taxpayers' withholding would go up a bit - but sequestration cuts wouldn't go into effect immediately. In addition - when Congress has not met its deadlines - the problems have been fixed retroactively.

As for the farm bill - Peterson noted the programs affecting crops are based on crop year - not the expiration date of the bill. And even though USDA must begin implementing a 1949 dairy program on January 1 - Peterson pointed out that some economists don't expect that to affect dairy prices until May or June.

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