Update 4:30 p.m. ET: Following increased pressure to pass farm legislation by the end of the year, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Sunday that the House and Senate have developed a short-term farm bill extension to prevent dairy prices from soaring in the new year.
The bill "also prevents eventual damage to our entire agriculture economy," Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.
Rep. Frank Lucas, Stabenow's Republican counterpart in the House, said the extension would last one year, but GOP leadership aides tell CNN there has been no decision on whether to bring the stopgap measure for a vote by January 1.
(CNN) – While Congress faces escalating pressure to avoid the fiscal cliff, a key Cabinet member is issuing dire warnings for the economy if Washington fails to immediately act on other vital legislation waiting in the wings.
"It is unconscionable that we don't have a farm bill," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "This is just historic."
The five-year farm bill, which aids farmers with price protections and subsidies, expired on September 30 after the House faced GOP division over extending the bill. Some conservative lawmakers said the newer version didn't go far enough in reform, while others said the price tag was too high, especially in provisions dealing with food stamps.
House Speaker John Boehner said in September that the chamber would readdress the issue after the election.
The recent expiration doesn't affect existing federal support for the remainder of 2012, but Vilsack cautioned that Americans could see stark changes come 2013.
"When you consider what rural America does: It provides most of the food, a lot of the water, almost all of the energy and fuel as well as many, many jobs connected to what happens in rural areas," Vilsack told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
Consumers, for example, could see a sharp increase in the price of milk–almost double current prices–if Congress doesn't act by January 1, when the dairy subsidy expires, or shortly thereafter, Vilsack said.
The reason: If a new bill isn't passed or the most recent one extended, the formula for calculating the price the government pays for dairy products defaults back to a 1949 statute. Under that formula, the government would be forced to buy milk at twice today's price - driving up the cost for everyone, CNNMoney reports.
The absence of farm legislation will also hurt agricultural exports, farmers markets, hunting grounds and farming families, Vilsack added. "Across the board, in virtually every aspect of our economy and society, there is an impact."
And Vilsack, who previously served two terms as Iowa governor, plans to see it through. Asked if he intends to stay on during President Barack Obama's second term, he said he's "absolutely" happy to keep his job if he can.
"I'm here as long as the president's pleased with my service. At least that's what the certificate says," he said. "I've got a great job and I'm privileged and honored to have it."
Vilsack's wife, Christie, challenged incumbent Rep. Steve King for his Iowa seat this year but failed to defeat the longtime Republican congressman. King was recently chosen to chair a House subcommittee that has oversight power over the Agriculture Department.
- CNN's Alan Silverleib and CNNMoney's Steve Hargreaves contributed to this report.
Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.