The multi-billion dollar federal farm bill is due to expire and Congress sent President Bush a one-week extension late Thursday, though there’s speculation he may not sign it. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, says he’s not very optimistic members of the House/Senate conference committee will come to an agreement on the enormous package of legislation over the next seven days.
Harkin says: "It seems like we take two steps forward and then we take a step back, but I guess that’s progress. The problem is we take two small steps forward and one big step back, that’s the problem." Senators drew up a tax package to accompany the farm bill, which also includes a five-billon-dollar bailout program for farmers who see crop losses in foul weather. Harkin says it’s that tax package that’s one big sticking point for House members.
Harkin says he and other senators met last night with members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which won’t accept the tax package. It was initially proposed at two-and-a-half-billion dollars, but Harkin says, "What a lot of people didn’t realize, that was two-and-a-half billion dollars next year." That won’t work on the decade-long farm bill, he says.
"We have a ten-year scoring for our farm bill and the ten-year scoring on that tax package is somewhere between eight and ten-billion dollars," Harkin says. "Well, there’s no way anyone’s going to accept an eight-to-ten billion dollar tax package when we’re at the bare bones on conservation and on energy and nutrition and all these other things."
The latest incarnation of the bill would cost an estimated 280-billion dollars over five years to broaden programs for agriculture and nutrition. The president has said that’s way too much, while also complaining the proposed cuts in subsidy payments to wealthier farmers don’t cut deeply enough.