Both chambers cleared today a two-week extension of the farm bill until May 16, as President Bush met with House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte and Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss. Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin has scheduled conference talks to resume today, and Goodlatte and House Minority Leader Boehner went to a National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser in Virginia, where Bush spoke Wednesday, a Goodlatte spokeswoman said today. Goodlatte told the president "about the good reforms that were in [the bill] ... and spoke very highly of them," the spokeswoman said. Goodlatte said Bush voiced some concerns, but he still characterized the meeting as "a good discussion," the spokeswoman said. She added that the changes "are looking good from our perspective," although Goodlatte will not take a position on the final bill until the conference has completed its work. A White House spokesman said the meeting was a private discussion.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Chambliss said the two met today, noting that the meeting gave the senator the "opportunity to outline significant reforms in the current farm bill framework, which the administration requested." She added that Chambliss "also urged the President to support the new plan to provide critical resources for our farm, nutrition and conservation programs."
Boehner confirmed to reporters today there was a discussion with Bush but added there was "concern raised about the amount of reform we see in this bill." He added that he believes "there is a need for more reform in the farm bill." Boehner also said the overall cost of the bill is a worry. "It is starting to look like an $18 billion price tag over the baseline," with $10 billion from customs fees and as much as $8 billion in timing shifts. "I am reluctant to refer to it as gimmicks, but I could use that word," said Boehner.
A Harkin spokeswoman said today that the chairman believes strongly that Congress can pass a bill that President Bush can sign. On Wednesday, Chambliss said that a provision in the House bill that would stop states from using private firms for initial screening of food stamp applicants would not be included in the final bill. But negotiators had included a provision that would require the payment of Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wages on construction of alternative energy plants involving federal funds, according to Chambliss.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.