House Speaker Pelosi’s opposition to the farm bill’s $2.5 billion tax package has emerged as central to the bill’s fate, but Senate conferees Wednesday prepared a series of tax package options they planned to present to House members before the conference resumes today in hopes that a resolution might be reached quickly.
The farm bill extension expires Friday. The House passed a one-week extension of the farm bill Wednesday, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Reid said the Senate is also planning an extension. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner said Wednesday President Bush will sign another short-term extension only if the administration believes there has been adequate progress.
Upon emerging from the meeting of Senate conferees, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin said, “It seems the speaker is adamantly against the tax package. That stymies things.” Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss said that Pelosi’s position had become crucial.
On Tuesday, Pelosi told the Democratic Caucus that Democratic and Republican senators say they need 60 votes for everything and “have an addiction to tax cuts for the special interests,” a source close to Pelosi said.
Pelosi has expressed her opposition to one tax package provision that would speed up depreciation of racehorses. That provision is of great interest to Senate Minority Leader McConnell because his state of Kentucky has a large racing industry, but Chambliss, Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., have all defended the provision. Pelosi has told Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus she will not allow money intended to be used for nutrition to be diverted to racehorse tax breaks.
A House conferee told CongressDaily that Pelosi is angry with the Senate over its insistence in including earmarks or their equivalents in other bills and considers the more than 60 tax provisions in the Senate-passed bill to be another example of that.
The conferee said Pelosi’s anger over the Senate’s action on other bills is a bigger factor in her opposition to the farm bill tax package rather than the overall package or the elements within it. The conferee said he believes even the much-maligned racehorse depreciation provision is a valid piece of legislation that would help that industry.
Senators emphasized Wednesday that many of the tax provisions have popular support. Baucus said many farm groups say the alternative energy tax breaks are important while Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said “hundreds of good government groups” support the conservation tax breaks.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Tuesday that, “Some of these [tax breaks] were promised by me when I was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee,” — a post he held before he began serving in the Senate in 1997.
Agriculture Secretary Schafer has noted that the tax package could raise the cost of the bill, which the administration does not like. But Roberts said the conferees should ignore White House veto threats, finish the bill and take it directly to President Bush. “We ought to negotiate with the man,” Roberts said.