House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson and Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin said today they will push the farm bill conference report forward this week, and both underscored that they oppose any attempt by the Bush administration to push a long-term extension of the 2002 farm bill. While Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said the Bush administration has no plan to send Congress a long-term extension, a media report today suggested the White House may request an extension of one or two years. In response to a question about that report, which appeared in Agweb, Peterson told reporters, “There isn’t going to be any goddamn long-term extension.” An extension of the farm bill expires Friday, and President Bush has said Congress should finish the bill by then or send him a long-term extension.
Peterson told farm bill conferees at a meeting today that he would propose a short-term extension to finish the bill, but that the conference needs to reach enough agreement by Wednesday that the House and Senate leadership and President Bush would agree to it. The main remaining issues are the offsets to pay for the bill and whether to include the $2.5 billion package of tax breaks in the Senate bill. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel met today to discuss the offsets but said afterward that they reached no resolution and would meet again today. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who represents Speaker Pelosi on the conference committee, said she is opposed to using the savings from a ban on physicians’ referrals to specialty hospitals they own as a farm bill offset because there are already plans to use that money for mental health programs. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, who also sits on Finance, said the White House is opposed to using increased income from stricter credit-card reporting or stock basis reporting as an offset. He added that customs user fees, which are classified as a negative outlay, must make up a significant portion of the offsets.
Conferees from the House and Senate voted to accept the credit, research and trade titles of the bill except for a small number of remaining items, but they spent most of their meeting debating whether the tax breaks should be kept. Peterson said that Pelosi remains opposed to the tax package, while senators defended the tax items as enhancements to the bill. Conrad urged that a compromise with a shorter list of tax breaks be reached. Harkin said the conference would reconvene Wednesday afternoon and that he would begin votes on items that staff aides have not been able to resolve. Harkin said members should be prepared to work through the weekend to finish the bill.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.