In years past the development of farm bills has moved at a glacial pace. Numerous field hearings and countless sub committee sessions stretching over the better part of an entire two-year congressional term were the norm. However, with nearly a year left on the current farm law, the House has already zipped through its version of a farm bill, and the senate is pushing hard to do the same. To be sure the senate's version will likely be much different. The reason for that is the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Committee chair, Iowa democrat Tom Harkin is bent on a dramatic restructuring of the government's approach to farm subsidies.
As expected, the Harkin plan would safeguard the incomes of grain and cotton farmers, as well as provide monetary incentives to promote conservation. Under Harkin's plan, conservation spending would rise by $1.8 billion a year by 2006 ... and would average $4 billion per year through the next decade. The House version would increase spending on conservation programs by $1.2 billion annually, though the overall cost of the Harkin and House bills is about the same ... $170 billion over 10 years. At its core, Harkin's plan would: --Keep two subsidy programs that provide fixed annual payments to grain and cotton farmers and guarantee minimum incomes for their crops. --And, create two new subsidy programs ... one to provide additional money when income falls below a predetermined level ... and the second to reward farmers for good environmental practices, with payments of up to $50,000 a year. Though the Bush administration has criticized the House version of the farm bill for its cost, Harkin believes the White house will look favorably on his legislation. The administration has backed a proposal by Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, Harkin's counterpart on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Lugar's measure would phase out crop subsidies in favor of giving farmers vouchers to buy revenue insurance. Harkin said he expects his committee to finish work on a farm bill next week, although the legislation may not reach the Senate floor until early next year.