Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin has scheduled a farm bill conference for this morning, less than 24 hours after the appointment of House conferees and an extraordinary Wednesday evening meeting of key negotiators.
House leaders were believed to have presented Senate leaders with a proposal to reduce the 10-year increase in the farm bill from $10 billion to $6 billion and leave out Senate provisions for a $4.1 billion farm disaster aid package and 60-plus tax breaks that would cost $2.5 billion.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, Harkin and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus met with House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid in Pelosi’s office for more than an hour Wednesday evening.
All the leaders except Rangel avoided the press afterward. “We’re going to follow the constitutional procedure and go into conference,” Rangel said.
The farm bill has been stalled for months due to a conflict between Rangel and Baucus over what offsets to use for the increased spending.
When the bill went through the House last year, Rangel agreed, under pressure from Pelosi, to provide a revenue raiser offset of $4.2 billion over five years or $11.5 billion over 10 years to pay for an increase in food stamp and other nutrition programs.
The House revenue raiser made it possible for the Senate Finance Committee to add its own revenue raiser, a farm disaster aid program that it planned to control and the package of tax breaks.
Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley has led a campaign to retain the tax breaks, which include one to speed depreciation of race horses said to be of importance to Senate Minority Leader McConnell. Harkin has said the tax package helped the Senate bill get 79 votes.
Rangel has said he believes the Senate took advantage of his inclusion of a revenue raiser to add elements he never intended.
Earlier Wednesday, he said “nothing has improved.” Rangel said senators who thought he would “negotiate with them and ignore the House Agriculture Committee” were wrong.
“If they can’t get along with Chairman Peterson, they will have a hard time getting along with me,” Rangel said at a news conference.
Lobbyists and Republican members provided some details of the proposal the House was expected to make to the Senate.
House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte said he, Peterson, Rangel, Pelosi and House Minority Leader Boehner had all signed off on a proposal including offsets for the $6 billion increase.
Lobbyists said the deal included leaving out the weather-related farm disaster package that Baucus and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad have championed and the Senate’s $2.5 billion in tax breaks.
Baucus was expected to oppose the package. Lobbyists said the White House was not thrilled with the proposed offsets, but would not oppose them.
Before the House appointed conferees Wednesday evening it adopted Goodlatte’s motion to instruct conferees that the bill should not be funded through tax increases. President Bush has said repeatedly he would veto a farm bill that included tax increases.
This article appears in the April 12, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.