Progress on crafting a new federal farm bill is slow, but steady, according to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. House and Senate negotiators are trying to reach common ground on the massive piece of legislation that would authorize the spending of 286-billion dollars over five years.
Harkin, a Democrat, notes it’s not just farming in the farm bill, but conservation, energy, nutrition and disaster assistance. Harkin says the Senate/House conference committee, which he chairs, has agreed to several key initiatives: boosting resources for ag research, supporting international food aid, giving beginning farmers tools they need to succeed, better policy programs with crop insurance for specialty crops, and more protections for forests.
He says there is so much incorporated into the bill, it’s little wonder that creating a final master plan is taking longer than anticipated. "Once the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees identify the (means) to pay for the bill, we can nail down the final portions of this. Hopefully, we’ll be doing that in just the next few days," Harkin says. "Progress has been slow and difficult but progress has also been steady and real. We see a way forward to completing a good bill within the next week or so."
President Bush has criticized the farm bill in its current form, saying it would spend 16-billion more dollars at a time when farmers are seeing record income. Bush had threatened to -not- sign an extension for the farm bill’s expiration to force lawmakers to speed up work on the measure. Harkin says it was likely a hollow threat.
If another extension isn’t granted, Harkin says they’d have to revert to the 1949 version of the farm bill which he says "could be a real problem" that would demand immediate action. He says the administration wouldn’t want that to happen so he predicts a short-term extension –will– be approved. The president had suggested a full one-year extension to the current farm bill, but Harkin’s confident a new, acceptable plan will be on Bush’s desk by early May.