Bush said Thursday he will sign a one-month extension of the existing farm law passed by both chambers Wednesday, pushing expiration to April 18. The 2002 law originally expired Sept. 30 and has been extended repeatedly.
The president said lawmakers should stop relying on such short-term fixes and approve at least a one-year extension if it expires without a new law in place.
"I believe the government has a responsibility to provide America's farmers and ranchers with a timely and predictable farm program," Bush said in a statement.
The Bush administration has threatened to veto both the House- and Senate- passed versions of the five year legislation that would provide $286 billion to expand farm and nutrition programs such as food stamps and farmer subsidies. The administration contends that both chambers used tax increases and funding gimmicks to pay for the bills, and lawmakers are scrambling to find new ways to finance the legislation.
House and Senate leaders have urged the two agriculture committees to finish the bill, but political pressure to produce the legislation has not been as strong as in the past. Prices have reached record highs for many crops, and many farmers would be pleased with an extension of current law.
Still, farm-state lawmakers say a new bill is necessary for the rural areas they represent. There may not be as much money to write a bill next year and the impact of a new president is unclear, especially if fiscally conservative Republican John McCain wins the post. The new legislation also includes more money for certain crops, increased dollars to protect environmentally sensitive land and new benefits for fruit and vegetable farmers.
Bush reiterated Thursday that he will veto a bill that does not include stronger limits on government subsidy payments to wealthy farmers. The administration has suggested that no payments should be made to farmers who have an average yearly gross income of $200,000 or more, but the House and Senate bills set those limits much higher.
Members were hoping to have agreement on the legislation before Congress heads home for a two-week recess at the end of this week. But progress has been slow.
The process has been complicated by the absence of House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., who was hospitalized with the flu last week and has not yet returned to Washington. Rangel and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., have been charged with finding extra money for the bill.
Lawmakers have also disagreed on who has control over the legislation. Baucus and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the finance panel, want their committee to control some farm programs along with finding the money for it. But Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., has said his committee should have total control over the bill.
Harkin insists a new bill is within reach.
"We wouldn't have opted for a short-term extension unless we had a strong level of confidence," he said.