Congress also sent the White House two other pieces of legislation this week that would prevent a government shutdown and extend the Treasury Department's ability to finance the budget deficit. Those bills must be signed by October 1. That's when the new fiscal year starts and, coincidentally, when the government will hit its borrowing ceiling of nearly $9 trillion.
While Washington is preoccupied with these seemingly more pressing matters, work on the next Farm Bill continues in the background. But a battle is brewing over government payments to farmers.
And even though the head of the Agriculture Department stepped down last week, both the Bush Administration and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns insist USDA now is in the capable hands of acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner.
USDA Acting Sec. Chuck Conner: "The sign of a great leader is one that lays down a foundation that at the end of the day they can step back and know that the work that they've done is going to continue on. With Mike Johanns leaving, I believe you're going to see seamless transition here."
Conner, speaking throughout the week on issues ranging from world trade to conservation and the 2007 farm bill, says his goals are no different than his predecessor's.
USDA Acting Sec. Chuck Conner: "Well obviously we're very anxious to see this farm bill completed. As I have stated, we have put forth some very solid recommendations to improve the farm safety net. We want to see an action completed that is very favorable to the Administration's proposals."
But one of the Bush Administration's chief recommendations, a dramatic slash in the nation's payment limits to farmers, is meeting opposition on Capitol Hill. Under current farm law, individual payments can amount to millions of dollars.
The House version of the 2007 farm bill would block payments to farmers that earn more than $1 million in adjusted gross income. That sum is far higher than the Administration's proposal of no payments for farmers making more than $200,000.
As for Conner's expectations, the acting Secretary of Agriculture hinted that a drastic payment cut in the 2007 farm bill may be an uphill battle.