Administration issues veto threat on Senate farm bill version

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The Bush Administration has again come out against the fiscal basis for the farm bill, this time what headed to the Senate floor for full debate this afternoon. The biggest quip again is funding, especially as it calls on other sectors to pick up agriculture's tab. Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner said funding makes a "mockery of the budgetary process" and is "simply unacceptable." He outlined shifts in payments from one year to another pushes payments outside the timeframe considered in the overall budget and is "dishonest."

Conner said he believes "this bill can be changed to reflect good farm and fiscal policy." Acceptable changes include stricter payment limits and eligibility, a more reform-minded bill and one that does not increase loan and marketing rates. He said "it's was just simply wrong" to take tax dollars from middle-class Americans to make farm payments to some of the nation's wealthiest landowners. The proposal to raise loan rates and target prices for program crops would serve to make U.S. farmers more vulnerable to trade challenges. Conner charged the bill includes $37 billion in "budget gimmicks and new taxes."

Conner said the release of the Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) will outline the reasons why Congress needs to reconsider its bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said although he had not received the SAP yet, he is "concerned" by the announcement. "I am hopeful we will be able to work through many of the Administration's concerns as the farm bill moves through the full Senate and into a conference with the House. Let us hope the White House will work cooperatively with the House and the Senate to craft a farm bill the President will sign," Harkin said.

Earlier this year the White House veto threat successfully pulled many House Republicans on board of rejecting the farm bill proposal because it raised taxes. In the Senate, a 60 majority is needed, making it more difficult to pass bills strictly on party lines. Will this veto threat do the same?

This debate just got more heated. Already the Senate is expected to battle out amendments for at least the next two weeks, if not more. That'll wrap up Senate debate hopefully by Thanksgiving. House-Senate conferees will have to be named and conference the report in a month. It's an uphill battle indeed.

Stay tuned•this week we'll take a look at Grassley and Dorgan's payment limit amendment and more.

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