Senator Tom Harkin says a tentative deal has been reached on a new Farm Bill. The five-year, 280-billion dollar Farm Bill has been the topic of intense, behind-the-scenes bargaining sessions on Capitol Hill.
"I’m just very happy we’re finally at the end of the tunnel here on the Farm Bill. It’s been a long, long, tough battle. As you know we passed ours in the Senate by 79 votes, the most votes any Farm Bill’s ever gotten," Harkin says. "The president threated to veto it, so we’ve had a tough slog the past three months."
An intense series of closed-door bargaining sessions over how to pay for the five-year, roughly $280 billion bill ended Friday afternoon and Harkin says there’s no doubt congress can pass the compromise that’s been devised. According to Harkin, there’s $1.1 billion more for conservation projects in the Farm Bill and over a billion to get more fresh fruits and vegetables served in school cafeterias.
But Farm Bill negotiators agreed to cut an ethanol tax credit and crop subsidies would continue to decline. Harkin says there is still a federal safety net. "We’ve got good, counter cyclical programs in there, farm price support programs, just in case these prices start to tumble," Harkin says. "So, all in all, a good Farm Bill that can head to the future." Harkin and other Farm Bill negotiators will meet at six o’clock tonight.
"Hopefully to cross the Ts and dot the Is and finish up any stragglers that may be out there," Harkin says. Harkin, a Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, isn’t convinced the deal’s done.
"In fact, until I see something on paper that I can look at, I’m going to say that there isn’t a deal until all parties…sign off," King says. "I do hear that there’s been some movement in the right direction." King says urban lawmakers exerted themselves in the Farm Bill debate, demanding more money for federal nutrition programs that help poor Americans buy food.
"Until they find a place for the money to come from, I don’t want it to come out of the pockets of our Iowa farmers," King says. "At least two-thirds of this Farm Bill goes to someplace other than to agriculture." Farm Bill negotiators reportedly have agreed upon how to pay for the legislation over the next five years, but King isn’t sure about that, either.
"I don’t think Senator Harkin addressed where the money’s going to come from," King says. "Until we resolve that issue, that’s been the sticking point all along." Harkin, Senator Grassley and Congressman Boswell were all on the conference committee hammering out a Farm Bill deal.
King is a member of the House Agriculture Committee but he was not on the panel drafting the final version of the Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expired in September, but the president and congress have been agreeing to extend current policy rather than let it expire.