Fiscal Cliff
9:30 am
Wed January 2, 2013

'Milk Cliff' Avoided, Too, But Congress May Have Left Florida Farm Prices In Disarray

The News Service of Florida

The deal between the White House and Congress narrowly approved Tuesday evening by the House to avoid going over the fiscal cliff would extend a 2008 farm law through September 2013.

TENSION REMAINS: Eight-dollar milk is now off the table but the fiscal cliff deal disrupted other agreements Florida farmers were counting on.
TENSION REMAINS: Eight-dollar milk is now off the table but the fiscal cliff deal disrupted other agreements Florida farmers were counting on.

That will keep milk prices from doubling but leaves other major issues unresolved.

Florida advocates have been worried about the farm bill, in part because of milk prices, but also because of its affect on food aid to the poor.

The extension would ignore comprehensive packages by the agriculture committees of both chambers, including provisions for dairy industry reform, disaster relief and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

In June, the full Senate had passed a five-year reauthorization of the 2008 law, but House Speaker John Boehner refused to allow a floor vote on the measure approved by the House Agriculture Committee in July. The farm bill then got caught up in fiscal cliff negotiations, mainly because without reauthorization by Jan. 1, a 1949 law would have kicked in, requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy up dairy products at double the current price.

The agriculture committees had agreed to include a new dairy support program, the Dairy Security Act, in the reauthorization package, along with $850 million in disaster aid. But these provisions were excluded from Tuesday's deal.

"The Senate's vote on a nine-month extension of current farm policy is a devastating blow to the nation's dairy farmers," said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. "After months of inaction, the plan that passed … as part of the fiscal cliff package amounts to shoving farmers over the dairy cliff without providing any safety net below."

The nine-month extension maintains food aid at current levels until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2013. The Senate bill would have cut SNAP by $4.5 billion, the House bill by $16 billion.

The House late Tuesday passed the bill to avert the fiscal cliff by a 257-167 vote, sending the measure to President Obama, who plans to sign it. The measure will allow tax rates on upper income Americans to go up, but makes middle class tax cuts permanent, avoiding a spike in taxes for most people that had been set to go into place.

The measure also extends unemployment benefits and makes other changes to tax and spending laws. It had passed the Senate earlier in the morning on Tuesday.