Negotiations between lawmakers working to complete new US farm bill reportedly stall because of disagreements over program to help dairy producers when milk prices drop, as well as a catfish inspection office at USDA

WASHINGTON , January 9, 2014 () – Negotiations between lawmakers working to complete a new farm bill have stalled because of disagreements over a program to help dairy producers when milk prices drop, as well as a catfish inspection office at the Agriculture Department, according to people briefed on the talks.

Lawmakers failed to complete work on the legislation before the holiday recess, and had hoped to put the finishing touches on the bill shortly after returning to Washington this week. But they hit a snag when Speaker John A. Boehner said he would not allow the dairy program to be part of a final bill voted on in the House.

The program, which limits dairy supplies to help bolster the price of milk, is generally opposed by conservatives. Mr. Boehner and Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, called the program a “Soviet style” government bureaucracy that distorts the market.

The provision is supported by dairy producers and legislators from large milk-producing states, including Representative Collin C. Peterson, Democrat of Minnesota and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, who said it was important to stabilize milk prices.

Dean Norton, the president of the New York Farm Bureau and a dairy farmer in Batavia, said the program was vital.

“This program keeps us from having these wild fluctuations in milk prices,” Mr. Norton said. “It’s just providing a safety net for producers. It’s not a direct subsidy, and it’s not a handout.”

The status of a catfish inspection program at the Agriculture Department also seemed to be impeding lawmakers.

The $20 million program has drawn considerable criticism because it duplicates a much cheaper program at the Food and Drug Administration. Despite the program’s costs, the Agriculture Department has yet to inspect a single catfish.

Catfish farmers and Southern lawmakers say the Agriculture Department’s program is needed to protect consumers from catfish imported from countries such as Vietnam. But critics call it a trade barrier designed to protect domestic catfish farmers.

In a letter sent to those working on the farm bill, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, on Wednesday called for a vote to repeal approval of the new inspection office.

Mr. McCain co-sponsored an amendment to repeal approval of the office in the Senate version of the farm bill last year. The measure never came up for a vote.

In his letter, Mr. McCain said the United States risked a trade war with Asian countries if the catfish office was not shut.

Vietnam has said in letters to the Obama administration that it would retaliate against American businesses if language authorizing the office remained in the farm bill.

Another issue that appears to be hampering efforts to move forward on the bill is a dispute over narrowing the eligibility criteria for individuals who receive farm payments. A proposal by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, would tighten the definition of those considered to be “actively engaged” in farming.

A Government Accountability Office report released last October found that numerous nonfarmers at large agriculture partnerships were able to qualify for farm subsidies by claiming to provide management for farming operations, even though they could not show that they had a hand in running the operation and had no knowledge of farming.

Mr. Grassley said language was needed to ensure that nonfarmers did not receive agriculture subsidies. Several members of Congress oppose the measure, saying it would create unnecessary paperwork burdens for farms.

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