The principal House negotiators on the farm bill conference cited progress this week toward a farm bill deal.  House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) suggested a framework for a deal could possibly emerge by next week.  Peterson said progress is being made on the bill’s energy title and the ongoing dispute over the food stamp cuts, according to a report in The Hill.

One of the leaders of the farm bill conference, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said discussions are “focused intensely on the title containing commodity subsidies,” and he and his Senate counterparts are getting to a common point on the commodity title.  “I think actually people are moving in the right direction toward progress,” Lucas said. However, no sections of the farm bill have been completely finalized and Lucas would not confirm that a framework could be done by next week.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also appears to be more optimistic.  With scheduled legislative days in session dwindling for 2013, Boenher specified three items he said could be agreed upon by both parties before the close of 2013. “These are issues that can be resolved before the end of the year, including reforms to our farm program, a bill to reauthorize important water projects around the country, and hopefully, a budget agreement so that we can stop lurching from one crisis to another,” Boehner said at his weekly press conference.

Boehner also said publicly that he does not believe the deficit savings in a 2013 farm bill should be used to reach a year-end budget deal replacing the sequester. The farm bill being negotiated could contain as much as $51 billion in savings over 10 years. That $51 billion could go a long way in replacing the $91 billion in automatic agency budget cuts in fiscal 2014.   “I think it’s a separate issue, and I’ve made it very clear to Chairman Ryan,” Boehner said.  Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is the lead budget negotiator for House Republicans.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is pushing back against efforts by some lawmakers to include provisions to change the controversial country-of-origin labeling rules in a final farm bill, saying the issue is better handled by the World Trade Organization.  “It would set a bad precedent every time there is a trade discussion, folks can run to Congress and get the rules changed in the middle of the game, and I think we need to let the game play out,”  Vilsack told Politico.