Farm bill conferees are expected to assemble this afternoon for what could be a make-or-break session that should reveal whether there has been a resolution of the financing and tax issues in the bill and whether there will be another short-term extension before the current one expires Friday.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, who chairs the conference, and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson say they want another short-term extension to finish the bill. Peterson said Tuesday he needs to know today whether enough progress has been made to ask House Speaker Pelosi to initiate an extension. President Bush has said he does not want to sign another short-term extension, but Agriculture Secretary Schafer has said he would recommend one if enough progress is made in the marathon session.
At a conference meeting Tuesday, Harkin said he would hold votes on issues that committee staff members have been unable to resolve.
Peterson said he agreed with that plan because recent staff meetings have been unproductive.
The biggest of those unresolved issues are provisions to establish stricter limits on farm program payments and to place a ban on meatpackers owning livestock shortly before slaughter. But other, smaller issues surfaced Tuesday.
When the conferees approved the trade title, Harkin noted that issues regarding food aid, such as whether a certain amount of food aid will be set aside for development programs rather than emergency assistance, and whether there will be a pilot project for local purchases of food aid with U.S. money, have not been resolved.
But the bigger issues are whether Senate Finance and House Ways and Means members have reached an agreement on offsets to pay for an additional $10 billion of increased farm bill spending over 10 years and whether the House will accept any of the tax breaks for agriculture that the Senate put in its farm bill.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel met twice Tuesday, but there appeared to be no resolution to the offset or tax issues.
Conflicts between the House and Senate continued over what offsets should be used. At the conference Tuesday, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she opposed the Senate’s proposed use of Medicare savings from establishing a ban on physicians referring patients to hospitals they own.
Baucus’ office released a letter from the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, and the Coalition of Full Service Community Hospitals in favor of his proposal.
Meanwhile, senators and some lobbyists were trying to figure out if they could save some of the 60-plus tax breaks in the Senate bill. National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said union members favor some provisions, but he would wait until the list was shorter before taking a position on whether the tax package should remain in the bill.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.