Farm bill negotiators inched closed today on the legislation's tax provisions as the Senate and House passed another one-week extension that runs until May 2. The current extension of the 2002 farm bill is set to expire Friday. President Bush has called for a one-year extension, but congressional aides said they expect him to sign the short-term extension to avoid antiquated permanent laws from going into effect. Speaking on the floor today, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin called for two more weeks and said one week would not give conferees enough time to finish the conference report, but Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, objected, saying two weeks would only let negotiators drag out their deliberations. Harkin said that President Bush “is not doing us any favors” by calling for a one-year extension. Harkin noted that the biggest increase in spending in the farm bill will be for nutrition programs, and added that negotiators have settled on $10 billion for nutrition, including food stamps. “If we have a one-year extension, that’s gone,” Harkin said.
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said that the negotiators had reached agreement on $1.4 billion for the agriculture tax package, but that additional tax measures had been referred to House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid. Conrad said that Bush administration officials had told him they will not accept increased government income from improved stock brokerage reporting of customers’ stock bases as an offset. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said that negotiators were meeting today to figure out how to cut $730 million from the bill’s commodity title and that ultimate agreement on the tax package depended on finalizing those cuts.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus later confirmed that Conrad’s number was “in the neighborhood” and that the racehorse-tax law changes that Senate Minority Leader McConnell has sought were “still in play.” A Harkin spokeswoman said the scheduling of a formal conference session depends on the meetings today. Baucus said he would work Friday and possibly into the weekend to try to wrap up the bill. Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley said of the size of the tax package: “If we get the policy we want we are not going to argue about the numbers."
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.