Farm bill conference starts off on rough patch

For the full article, click on the headline above.

The clock is ticking with only 4 days left before the current farm bill expires April 18. The House named conferees late last Wednesday evening and held their first meeting Thursday. Although all signs pointed to a cooperative environment, instead House leaders came in proposing only a $5.5 billion over baseline bill, which the Senate quickly balked at.

House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson rolled out a recommendation to cut the proposed 10-year increase over the baseline from $10 billion to $5.5 billion and to use increased income that would come from stricter rules on reporting credit card transactions as an offset. The Administration, however, has said it will not support the credit card offset as its revenue was not intended for agriculture. Peterson's proposal did not include funding the Senate's proposed $4 billion disaster program or the Senate's $2.5 billion in tax breaks. Also Wednesday night, the House voted 444 to 11 to instruct conferees to write a bill without increasing taxes

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who has championed a strong disaster program, called Peterson's $5.5 billion offer a "lowball" for farm country. "The absence of disaster assistance is unacceptable to Senate conferees," he said. "But I'm confident this won't be the House's final position."

Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley said, "If the House really wants a farm bill, they didn't start out very well today. Not only did the House leave out important tax provisions for young and beginning farmers, they also neglected to include relief from the self-employment tax on CRP payments for the disabled and retired. The agriculture industry needs more than just subsidies. It needs a balanced bill that does justice to important priorities like crop insurance, farm payment reform and tax relief. I don't think the Senate will stand for this irresponsible proposal.

Meanwhile, Charles Rangel, Chair of the

House Ways
and Means Committee, wants to know how money will be spent before he will agree to provide offsets from his committee. He wants any money that comes from Ways and Means to be spent in the Nutrition Title of the bill. Some reports indicate the extra $9 billion he's looking to find could all go towards extra nutrition spending.

Friday Tom Harkin, chair of the Senate Ag Committee, countered Peterson's proposal with a package similar to one that was previously agreed upon by the House, Senate and Administration that would provide $10 billion in over-baseline funding. Harkin said the Senate would respond to the House offer with a $10 billion over baseline proposal.

In sending the Senate proposal to the House, Harkin and Baucus said their framework "maintains the investments of the Senate-passed bill and thanks to the Senate Finance Committee, it is deficit neutral," Harkin said. "I urge House conferees to consider this framework and negotiate in good faith so that we can meet our April 18th deadline for the bill."

Baucus added, "In farm country, a handshake is your word, and the framework Senate conferees are sending to the House reflects the agreement both sides made back in February for $10 billion in additional farm spending, including $4 billion for disaster assistance. Farmers from Montana to Minnesota to both coasts have made clear how much they need this disaster assistance, and this proposal delivers for farm families in need," said Baucus. "The Senate is showing a strong and appropriate commitment to nutrition programs and to our nation's agricultural producers, and I'm confident that House conferees will work with us to finalize a good farm bill. We'll just have to keep working together to come up with a final agreement that works for farmers and ranchers."

For more details of the Senate framework, click here.

All conferees will reconvene today (Monday) at 4 p.m. EST to discuss the proposal. The proceedings will be available live via Webcast by clicking here.



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