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Rep. Welch Hopeful For Dairy Compromise In New Farm Bill

Rep. Peter Welch says he's optimistic that Congress will pass a compromise Farm Bill in the coming weeks. Welch says he thinks the legislation will include a new dairy program that's supported by many Vermont farmers.

The old Farm Bill expired at the end of last year and technically milk prices are supposed to revert back to a pricing system established by a law passed in the 1940s.

But because it’s estimated that this approach would result in a doubling of consumer milk prices, the Obama Administration is not enforcing the old law as long as it feels Congress is making progress on a new bill.

The main debate is over a dairy provision that allows farmers to purchase special insurance to help them avoid wild swings in prices. Farmers who sign up for this voluntary program must also agree to lower production when there’s an oversupply of milk. Welch says this approach was developed by a group of Vermont dairy farmers.

"I am upbeat about it. I think we are making progress." Rep. Peter Welch on the prospects for a new Farm Bill

The Senate and the House Agriculture committee support this approach, but House Speaker John Boehner strongly opposes the supply management plan and calls it “a Soviet-style dairy program.”

Despite the Speaker’s opposition, Welch is optimistic that a compromise can be reached.

“I’m upbeat about it," Welch said. "I think we’re making progress despite the Speaker’s aggressive opposition and wild rhetoric. Our farmers need some stability and they have just gotten whipsawed with these wild swings in the market price.”

Welch says Congressional leaders are looking for ways that Boehner can accept to discourage production when there’s too much milk in the marketplace.

“They are the types of changes you make that in a lot of ways let everybody claim victory but you keep the heart of the stabilization program,” said Welch. “So I can’t tell you for certain that we’re going to be successful but I can tell you everything I’m hearing is making me more hopeful than not.”

While there may be progress on the dairy program, Welch says he’s very disappointed that the compromise bill will most likely make sizeable cuts in the Food Stamp program.

He says the final compromise will probably cut the program by $9 billion over a five year period. It’s a program that’s used by more than 100,000 Vermonters.

“In my view, that’s way too much,” Welch said. “We’ve got a tough economy out there and most people who are on Food Stamps, it’s children, it’s disabled, it’s single parents, and we’ve got an economy that isn’t producing jobs and the need to help folks get meals, especially our kids, is really important.”

Welch says time is running out to find a compromise. That’s why he’s hoping that Congressional leaders will agree on a new Farm Bill by the end of the month.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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