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'Dairy cliff'? Milk prices poised to spike unless Congress acts.

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Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan indicated the House could vote on the bill soon, though House leaders have not yet agreed to put the bill on the floor. In addition to the one-year extension that has the backing of the committees, the House GOP is also considering two other extension bills: a one-month extension and an even smaller bill that would merely extend dairy policy that expires Jan. 1.

Without legislative action by year-end, US farm policy would revert on Jan. 1 to the provisions of the last permanent farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 1949.

Under that law the government would be bound to offer so-called "parity pricing" for fluid milk, under a scheme originally designed to ensure that farmers would be adequately compensated relative to the changing cost of living.

But "parity" was based on price relationships among various goods dating back to the period of 1910 to 1914. Agriculture experts say the original basket of prices used in the calculations included the price of a mule as a useful benchmark.

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