President grants one more month

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President Bush put his foot down Thursday in farm bill negotiations. Wednesday the Senate and House passed a farm bill extension until April 18. In signing the extension, Bush said he would only sign this extension and if Congress can't get a deal by that date, they'll have to abandon its attempts for new farm law and pass an "at least one year" extension of the 2002 farm bill. The previous extension would have expired on Saturday, March 15th.

In his statement, Bush said while a long-term extension of the current law is not the desired outcome, "I believe the government has a responsibility to provide America's farmers and ranchers with a timely and predictable farm program -- not multiple short-term extensions of current law. Without a predictable policy, agriculture producers will be unable to make sound business decisions with respect to this year's crop," he said. (Click here for the full statement.)

President Bush reiterated his veto threat for a final farm bill that includes a tax increase or does not include reform.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin was optimistic about completing a bill by the new deadline. "Although a new bill is within reach, Congress needs more time to reach agreement and obtain the necessary cooperation from the White House,•bCrLf he said. "There is still a considerable amount of work ahead before we can pass a bill: obtaining the needed funding for the bill and fitting all of the demands within the funding we expect to be available.•bCrLf

Though the new extension appears to give Congress a month to complete the farm bill, only 11 of those days are "working days•bCrLf when Congress will take votes. On three of those days votes do not begin until in the evening.

Some parties have suggested passing a package agreed upon by the House and Senate then voting to override a presidential veto, should the President veto the bill.

Ideas for saving

A bipartisan letter was sent to farm bill negotiators outlining 10 suggestions for paying for additional priorities, and even saving some money, within the current framework of the farm bill. They've outlined savings ranging from $10 to $25 billion over 10 years.

One idea is to roll back higher loan rates and target prices, which would generate $2.3 billion in savings over 10 years.

Another item calls for reducing direct payments - a program which was originally created to wean farmers off subsidies in the 1996 farm bill.

For corn producers the direct payments are estimated to cost more than $20 billion over the next five years, the bipartisan group said. "These payments can be dialed down to produce savings anywhere up to a full $10 billion over 10 years," they said. Simply reducing the direct payment rate from 28 to 20 cents for corn farmers would generate $5 billion in savings over 10 years.

They also seek a revenue-based safety net, which could create cost savings of $1.8 billion. The reject the Senate's proposed permanent disaster entitlement program, and said the bill should instead encourage farmers to purchase crop and revenue insurance.

Read the full letter.

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