April 25, 2008
April 25, 2008 -- House and Senate conferees involved in negotiations on the new Farm Bill met again this week to try to resolve several of the most contentious issues remaining but made limited progress. On Thursday, both cambers passed a one-week extension on the Farm Bill by unanimous consent. This is the fifth extension since the law originally expired in September.
After passage of the latest extension, Conference Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa) stated that he preferred a two-week extension of the bill, arguing that an agreement was at hand but it would not be possible to complete the necessary paperwork in only one week. His two-week proposal was objected to by Senate conferee Larry Craig (Idaho) who stated that he was not opposed to the Farm Bill but that the negotiations had already lasted too long.
It is anticipated the President will sign the one-week extension, despite his stated objections. He continues to state that he supports a one-year extension of the current bill (which many lawmakers oppose) unless he sees "significant" policy reform and the absence of any tax provisions. The President also believes the bill currently being considered by the conference costs too much, uses tax gimmicks to pay for the increased spending and does not fully address reforms such as restructuring farm subsidies.
While progress was made this week, it remains unclear how the more significant issues will be resolved, such as the extension of tax credits for land conservation, alternative energy production and timber programs, as well as offsets for the $10 billion in new spending above the current bill's 10-year, $560-billion baseline.
The leadership of the conference, including Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) as well as Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (Mont.) and House Ways and Means Chair Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), indicated late this week that discussions are very positive and that a Farm Bill agreement between the House and Senate conferees is not far away. Indications are that a tentative agreement is very close that will provide an additional $10 billion in funding derived from user fees and customs fees. Also, the much discussed tax package has shrunk considerably from $2.5 billion to somewhere around $1.6 to $1.9 billion.
This week the conferees did approve three major initiatives of the bill: crop insurance, the Commodity Reauthorization Act and the first-ever specialty crop title to the bill, which supports growers of fruits and vegetables and other specialty crops through research and marketing programs. The title does not contain any individual support payments for producers of specialty crops.
Next week should indicate if the conferees can reach a joint resolution on their Farm Bill deliberations and ultimately send it to the President for his agreement or veto. Staff contact: Peter Orwick, ext. 33