MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A patchwork extension of federal farm programs passed as part of a larger "fiscal cliff" bill keeps the price of milk from rising but doesn't include many of the goodies that farm-state lawmakers are used to getting for their rural districts.
House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders who spent more than a year working on a half-trillion-dollar, five-year farm bill that would keep subsidies flowing had to accept in the final hours a slimmed-down, nine-month extension of 2008 law with few extras for anyone.
With the new Congress opening Thursday, they'll have to start the farm bill process over again, most likely with even less money for agriculture programs this year and the recognition that farm interests have lost some of the political clout they once held.
"I think there's a lot of hurt feelings, that all of this time and energy was put into it and you've got nothing to show for it," said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said it even more bluntly on the Senate floor just after she learned that the bare-bones extension would be part of the fiscal cliff deal.
"There is no way to explain this," she said angrily as the deal came together New Year's Eve. "None. There is absolutely no way to explain this other than agriculture is just not a priority."
After Congress failed to pass a farm bill earlier last year, the legislation became tangled in the end-of-the-year fiscal cliff talks as dairy subsidies were set to expire Jan. 1 and send the price of milk to $6 or $7 a gallon, double current prices. The White House and congressional leaders negotiating the fiscal cliff had agreed that the bill would somehow have to avert that "dairy cliff," but it was uncertain how.
Hoping to salvage some of their work, Stabenow and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., crafted a last-minute extension of 2008 farm law to add to the fiscal cliff package, including help for their own state interests: fruit and vegetable growers plentiful in Michigan, and more than $600 million in emergency money for livestock producers who were affected by drought, a priority for Lucas. In addition to averting the milk price spike, their bill also contained an overhaul of dairy programs, a priority for House Agriculture's top Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
The extension Stabenow and Lucas crafted cost around $1 billion — an amount too high and too risky for House and Senate leaders negotiating the broader fiscal cliff deal. According to aides familiar with the talks, the White House and congressional leaders wanted a farm bill extension with no major policy changes or new spending that could subject the entire fiscal cliff bill to opposition.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky added a bare-bones version of a farm bill extension that didn't include money for any of the agriculture leaders' top priorities and renewed other farm programs without any new funding.
First-time jobless claims rose to 372,000 last week
WASHINGTON -- First-time jobless claims rose to 372,000 last week, a level consistent with a moderately growing labor market ahead of Friday's December unemployment report.
The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits was up 10,000 in the week ending Saturday from the previous week's revised total, the Labor Department said Thursday. The number of claims was higher than economists' projections of about 360,000.
The already volatile weekly numbers become even more so during the holidays, when government office closures force the Labor Department to estimate data from some states.
The figure for the week ending Dec. 15 was revised up to 362,000 from the 350,000 originally reported, which had been close to a 4 1/2-year low.
The less-volatile four-week average was 360,000, an increase of 250.
Thursday's figures were consistent with moderate job growth and came as private payroll firmAutomatic Data Processing reported that hiring accelerated in December.
The firm's closely watched survey said the private sector added 215,000 jobs last month, an increase from November's revised figure of 148,000. The Labor Department figure for private and public sector job growth in November was 147,000.