Final farm bill still up in the air

President Bush gave Congress until April 18 to finish farm bill negotiations. It appears that an agreement has finally been made on $10 billion above previous "baseline" spending, but how to pay for that remains unknown at this point. Sticking points include how much funding for the Senate's permanent disaster program, if and how much to cut direct payments, what committee has jurisdiction over the money and whether a revenue-based assurance plan will be an option for producers.

With less than two weeks away, it's still unknown whether House and Senate leaders can settle differences in crafting new legislation. In previous statements, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said President Bush is unlikely to grant another short extension past the April 18 date if Congress asks for it. Instead, he may only be willing to give a one or two-year extension. Today reports indicated Schafer was back-peddling on Bush's previous statements opposing short-term extensions.

After a speech to the North American Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ) today, Schafer said, "If we have the framework agreement done [including] reforms and overall spending and are working out the mechanics•we could look at another short-term extension," the National Journal's CongressDaily reported. But the short-term extension hinges on progress before the April 18 date.

In comments today to reporters Schafer also indicated the administration is willing to consider a permanent disaster aid program, but fears in its current form could fall into the World Trade Organization's trade-distorting subsidies.

To listen to a brief audio clip from Sec. Schafer on this issue, just click here (MP3-1:00- Rod Bain, USDA Radio).

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