President calls for one year farm bill extension

Today President Bush called on Congress to extend the 2002 Farm Bill for at least one year so producers can make sound business and planting decisions. President Bush passed a short-term extension of the farm bill last Friday, but only four days remain until that extension runs out.

"Despite the passage of more than a year since my Administration unveiled a responsible and forward-looking farm bill proposal, there are no signs that the conference committee will reach agreement on an acceptable farm bill by Friday," he said.

In a statement, he said the farm bill proposal currently being discussed by conferees would fail several important tests that he had set forth including his call for reform and that it not raise taxes. "With record farm income, now is not the time for Congress to ask other sectors of the economy to pay higher taxes in order to increase the size of government. The proposal would increase spending by at least $16 billion, masked in part by budgetary gimmicks and funded in part by additional tax revenues. These tax revenue provisions are unacceptable - including tax compliance initiatives being considered by the House and Senate Conference Committee. As important, the proposal also lacks the important reforms I've repeatedly called for," he said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said an extension was "unacceptable." He has said previously the House does not have the votes to pass an extension, hinting that he would allow 1949 permanent law to go into effect.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said time was running out, but he noted that the farm bill programs were close to agreement. He pointed out that Sen. Larry Craig (R., Idaho) has threatened to block another extension. It only takes one senator to put a hold on moving a bill to the Senate floor. The sticky points continue to be finding the budget offsets to pay for the $10 billion the Senate insists on for farm bill priorities and the additional $2.5 billion in tax breaks.

Harkin (D-Iowa), who also chairs the Senate-House conference committee on the farm bill, said the President's call for an extension is "just the latest example of the administration's lack of cooperation to enact a new, stronger farm bill," he said.

"The administration continues to dig in its heels on the farm bill by rejecting reasonable offsets that the White House itself used for other legislation and by now calling for a one year extension of current law," Harkin continued. "It makes me think that they do not want a new bill — one that makes investments in energy, conservation and nutrition or that extends support for growers of fruits, vegetables and horticultural crops. What we need is for the President to roll up his sleeves and cooperate with the Congress so that we can get this bill done."

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