Senate farm bill conferees hope to make a counteroffer to the House today, according to Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin.
After emerging from a meeting of most of the 11 Senate conferees, Harkin said Thursday that the conferees plan to meet again in the early afternoon today and finalize the offer. Harkin said he would call a formal meeting of the conference committee for Monday or Tuesday.
On Thursday, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson offered the Senate a farm bill package that would include a $5.5 billion budget increase to be paid for by an increase in government income from stricter credit-card reporting requirements.
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said Thursday that the Bush administration would not agree to that offset, but House members and staff have said they believe the White House might accept it.
The House offer did not include a provision in the Senate-passed farm bill for a $4 billion farm disaster aid program or $2.5 billion in agricultural tax cuts.
Peterson said he is not personally opposed to the disaster aid program, but he does not believe it should be funded with money subject to pay-go rules.
In the past, disaster programs have been funded on an emergency basis. Peterson said he believes the tax package should be left out, but Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley said he considers it a necessary part of the bill.
After the Senate conferees’ meeting, Harkin, Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said the counteroffer would be for a $10 billion increase in the farm bill budget over 10 years and would include an offset proposal to cover it.
Grassley declined to comment on the meeting, but said he and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus would meet to discuss the offset issue and the tax package before the meeting today.
In a thinly veiled reference to Peterson and House Speaker Pelosi, Conrad said “everyone had previously agreed to” the $10 billion increase in the farm bill and to use measures under control of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees to pay for it.
This article appears in the April 12, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.