In the shadow of a presidential veto threat, U.S. Senate debate on the new incarnation of the Farm Bill is expected to start again Friday. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, the Democrat who chairs the Agriculture Committee, says he doesn’t understand the politics behind the Bush Administration’s motivations, as he thinks the legislation is right on target.
"We crafted a bill that’s good for America, that’s fiscally responsible, meets our budget guidelines," Harkin says, "it’s a strong bipartisan measure that came through our committee without one negative vote. It maintains farm income protection, invests in nutrition, conservation, renewable energy and rural development, but now all of this is in jeopardy."
The White House has threatened to veto the Farm Bill, as the administration says the 288-billion dollar measure contains tax increases and budget gimmicks. Harkin disagrees. He says the White House "took issue with virtually every key element of the bill. The administration even objected to the expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for schoolkids. This is really over the top. My first reaction was disbelief. I asked myself if they’re really serious. Apparently so."
On Tuesday, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, suggested his amendment to limit federal farm subsidies to 250-thousand dollars per farm couple per year as a possible way to reverse the White House’s disapproval of the bill. Current law allows 360-thousand dollars in payments. Harkin says he isn’t sure if Grassley’s proposal would win Bush over.
Harkin says: "I’m a supporter of the Grassley-Dorgan amendment. I hope it’ll pass. We passed it five years ago and lost it in conference. Hopefully, we can have a better cut at it this time. I think that putting a reasonable cap on these subsidies is the right way to go." While debate on the Farm Bill resumes on Friday, Harkin says he’s confident the new version will be complete within a few weeks and before Congress adjourns for Thanksgiving.