The ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee said Tuesday she agrees with Chairman Pat Roberts’ (R-Kan.) assessment that lawmakers negotiating a new farm bill face no firm deadline until December, despite the Sept. 30 expiration of current law.

“We’ve still got some pretty substantial differences in policy on a number of different titles,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said. She said House and Senate negotiators were nowhere close to reaching a compromise. The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate committees held a phone call Tuesday to continue farm bill talks, according to two House Agriculture Committee aides.

“The good news is that the real deadline isn’t Sept. 30. It’s actually December,” Stabenow said, echoing a point made last week by Roberts. Current farm program authorizations expire Sept. 30 or the applicable crop year. The latter language is seen as giving lawmakers some leeway on timing.

The farm bill (H.R. 2) being negotiated would authorize agriculture-related programs for five years (Public Law 113-79). The largest partisan divide is over work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). House lawmakers proposed to tighten and add a mandatory work training program. Senate negotiators have balked at these changes.

Roberts told reporters Sept. 17 “some progress” has been made, but the real issue is SNAP. “As this draws to the final week here, we have to come to some agreement,” he said.

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