According to White House budget Director, Mitch Daniels, the recession and the costs of the war on terrorism have made federal budget deficits likely for at least the next three years. Given that reality it is likely federal budgets for a host of endeavors will tighten or in some cases be eliminated. That scenario has not been lost on the American farm lobby. Even though the current farm law containing a host of programs and subsidies doesn't run out until October 2002, a wide spectrum of interest groups have been pushing to renew it as soon as possible. At one time the talk was of reforming and refocusing the farm law to favor conservation both environmental and fiscal. But political expediency has caused the cost of the legislation to swell and is now provoking White House opposition.
The nation's power brokers have begun the arduous task of positioning themselves on farm policy. Democrats, backed by an unusual coalition of 32 farm groups, pushed this week to bring an overhaul of farm policy to the Senate floor. At the same time, Republicans threatened to filibuster the legislation ... and President Bush renewed criticism of a policy he says is too expensive and detrimental to agriculture.
Bush: "A good farm bill should keep the safety net under our food producers without misleading our farmers into overproducing crops that are already in oversupply by increasing loan rates."
The president said he would support "generous but affordable" farm legislation. His agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman, claimed the Senate bill would raise subsidy rates by as much as 20 percent. Veneman also expressed concern about so-called counter-cyclical measures in both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill. She said the payments, triggered when commodity prices fall below certain levels, could exceed U.S. subsidy limits in an international trade agreement.
Not so, says the Senate bill's principal author, agriculture committee chairman Tom Harkin, of Iowa.
Harkin: "Contrary to some speculation and rumors, this bill is fully within our budget limitations, according to the Congressional Budget Office scoring."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wants to bring farm legislation to a vote by next week, so negotiators can work out a compromise with the House before Congress breaks for Christmas.
Existing farm programs don't expire until October 2002. But backed by divergent farm groups ranging from the National Farmers Union to the American Farm Bureau, Daschle said farmers need assistance now..
Daschle: "For transitional purposes, for economic purposes, for purposes of sending a clear message to the American farmer and rancher, (for) what we intend to do with regard to farm policy, there is an urgent need to act."
The administration has, so far, not threatened a veto of either the Senate or House version of the farm bill. But it has made clear it favors an alternate proposal offered by Indiana Republican Richard Lugar.