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Not going over the dairy cliff just yet

Posted at 5:10 PM, Dec 30, 2012

Washington (CNN) — Following increased pressure to pass farm legislation by the end of the year, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Saturday that the House and Senate have developed a short-term farm bill extension to prevent dairy prices from soaring in the new year.

The bill “also prevents eventual damage to our entire agriculture economy,” Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Frank Lucas, Stabenow’s Republican counterpart in the House, said the extension would last one year, but GOP leadership aides tell CNN there has been no decision on whether to bring the stopgap measure for a vote by January 1.

If the House does decide to take up the bill, lawmakers could vote as early as Sunday night.

The news on the possible extension came as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack issued sharp warnings in an interview that aired Sunday morning on CNN, saying if Congress fails to act in the next two days, consumers could face a spike in the price of milk, along with other products, after the government’s dairy subsidy expires at the start of the year.

The overall five-year farm bill, which aids farmers with price protections and subsidies, expired on September 30 after the House faced GOP division over extending the bill. Some conservative lawmakers said the newer version didn’t go far enough in reform, while others said the price tag was too high, especially in provisions dealing with food stamps.

The recent expiration doesn’t affect existing federal support for the remainder of 2012, but Vilsack cautioned that Americans could see stark changes come 2013.

The reason: If a new bill isn’t passed or the most recent one extended, the formula for calculating the price the government pays for dairy products defaults back to a 1949 statute. Under that formula, the government would be forced to buy milk at twice today’s price – driving up the cost for everyone, CNNMoney reports.

The absence of farm legislation will also hurt agricultural exports, farmers markets, hunting grounds and farming families, Vilsack added.

“Across the board, in virtually every aspect of our economy and society, there is an impact.”

Reiterating Vilsack’s remarks, Stabenow said in her statement that it was “critical” for Congress to eventually pass a broader, five-year farm bill to give farmers and ranchers a better sense of security.

“If a new farm bill doesn’t pass this Congress we’ll soon hold another mark-up and just keep working until one is enacted next year,” she said.

CNN’s Alan Silverleib, Ted Barrett, Deirdre Walsh, Ashley Killough, and CNNMoney’s Steve Hargreaves contributed to this report.

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