Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson both said today they have settled all the issues in the new farm bill except for those on which conferees will vote. They added that the completion of the bill depends on Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel reaching agreement on which offsets to pay for spending above the 10-year baseline of $597 billion. But an Agriculture Department spokesman said today that the Bush administration was not satisfied with the offer the Senate made Friday. “This proposal does not include program reform and includes tax revenue provisions for the sole purpose of increasing government spending. Therefore, this proposal is not acceptable and the president’s senior agriculture advisers would recommend a veto,” said Chris Connelly, a spokesman for Agriculture Secretary Schafer.
Harkin, who chairs the conference, has called a meeting of conferees for today. He said he expects Peterson to make another counterproposal on offsets that will be turned over for Baucus and Rangel to settle. The remaining issues could be resolved in a few “marathon” sessions Wednesday and Thursday, Harkin said. He added that while it is unlikely the conferees could get the bill to the floor of the House and Senate before Friday, the date the extension of the 2002 farm bill expires, floor action is likely next week. Peterson said he wants the bill settled by Wednesday so that he could persuade House Speaker Pelosi and others to support another short-term extension of the 2002 bill.
Peterson added that he had accepted the only change the Senate conferees made in the farm bill. The House had increased the cut in crop insurance subsides to $6 billion, but the Senate reduced the cut to $5.75 billion. Harkin said that to reduce the crop insurance cut, the Senate proposal would delay implementation of the increases in crop target prices and loan rates and make a small change in his average crop revenue program. Harkin noted that the change in date for target prices and loan rates would not matter because crop prices are above those levels at the present time.
The House and Senate have proposed different levels of spending with different offsets. The House proposed $5.5 billion in spending above the baseline, but Peterson said today that House Minority Leader Boehner had agreed to $6 billion above the baseline. The House proposed using revenue from stricter credit-card income reporting as an offset. The Senate proposed spending $10 billion above the baseline plus $2.5 billion in tax breaks to be financed through a combination of income from stricter stock basis reporting and an extension of customs user fees and reductions in Medicare expenditures due to a ban on physicians’ referrals to hospitals they own as offsets. A Baucus aide said the Montana Democrat will continue to talk with Rangel and many other colleagues today to settle on a final list of offsets.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.