As the Holiday Recess rapidly approaches, Congress is picking up the pace. The Energy Bill passed out of the Senate this week after a controversial $22 billion tax on oil companies was removed. The bill includes a 36 billion gallon renewable fuels standard -- nearly half of which is derived from ethanol.
The good news for farmers continued as the week ended. After battling for more than two months, as well as working under a veto threat from the White House, the Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill by a resounding 79 to 14.
After coming to an agreement on the number and type of amendments, the Senate returned to work on the 2007 Farm Bill. The week began with rapid consideration of the sharply limited number of measures. Included were amendments for development of rural wind energy, changes to the crop insurance program, and modifications to the Packers and Stockyards Act-- all meeting with defeat.
An effort by Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to cap farm subsidy payments at $250,000 was narrowly voted down. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin, a co-sponsor, called the defeat a missed opportunity to implement common-sense limits on subsidies.
As the week ended, work stalled, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a motion to invoke cloture. Unlike the attempt just before the Thanksgiving Recess the proposal was overwhelmingly approved 78-12. This parliamentary procedure limits debate to 30 hours and is followed by an immediate up or down vote.
Late Friday, Senators stopped debate early, moved to a vote, and approved the measure. The bill now goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee to hammer out the details. Despite any work completed by this committee the measure continues to stand in the shadow of a White House veto.
As a stop gap move, House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson announced plans to include language in an upcoming bill to extend certain 2002 Farm Bill programs into early 2008. Peterson says the legislation will protect the Farm Bill's budget through March 15 giving members of Congress more time to sort out their differences.