Farm Bill Close, Yet So Far

The farm bill inches ever closer to completion, but the conferees need to hurry to meet this Friday’s deadline.

The chairmen of the House and Senate ag committees say completing the farm bill hinges on the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee reaching an agreement on offsets to pay for spending above the 10-year baseline of $597 billion.

It won’t be easy. The Senate made an offer this past Friday (April 11) that included spending $10 billion above the baseline cost over 10 years and protected $2.5 billion in tax breaks also in the Senate farm bill. However, the Bush administration does not like where the Senate would come up with funding and the bill lacks needed changes in commodity programs, according to Chris Connelly, a USDA spokesman.

DTN’s Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom has been following the farm bill’s progress closely. He reports that "when it comes to fundamental policies in the bill, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA, and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, both said Monday (April 14) they have settled all issues in the new farm bill, except for those issues considered so large that they require specific votes from conferees."

Harkin, who chairs the conference, called a meeting of conferees late Monday, and says he expects Peterson to make another counterproposal on offsets that will be turned over to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-NY, according to Hagstrom.

The remaining farm bill issues could be settled in a few "marathon" sessions Wednesday and Thursday, Harkin says. Harkin adds that the conferees could not get the bill to the floor of the House and Senate before Friday, the date the extension of the 2002 farm bill expires, but that it could go to the floor of each body next week. Peterson says he wants the bill settled by Wednesday so that he could convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and others to support another short-term extension of the 2002 bill.

The $2.5 billion tax package in the Senate bill is still a contentious issue, Hagstrom reports.

The Agricultural Retailers Association reminds retailers that "it is essential that farm bill conferees include in the Conference Agreement Bill (HR 2419) the Agricultural Chemicals Security Credit (Section 12405) provision from the Senate proposal. Please call your senators and representatives and urge their support for this important provision."

The Capitol switchboard’s number is 202-225-3121. Ask to be connected with your member of Congress.


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