Senate counters farm bill proposal

Senate leaders say their version of the 2008 farm bill, which contains $10 billion above the Congressional Budget Office “baseline,” should be the model for the legislation that must be passed by April 18 to keep farm programs from reverting to permanent law.

But the chairman of the House agriculture Committee said the Senate bill, although close to a proposal offered Thursday by House conference committee members, still requires more work before it can be adopted.

Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairmen of the Senate agriculture and finance committees, announced the Senate conferees latest proposal Friday afternoon.

The proposal is based on a March 25 framework of $10 billion in additional spending for the farm bill, including funds for disaster assistance. The framework maintains the investments of the Senate-passed bill with strong farm income protection as well as investments in nutrition, conservation and renewable energy and a program to provide disaster assistance to farmers.

The senators said their two committees worked in tandem to develop the framework with the Senate Finance Committee identifying offsets that make the bill deficit neutral. The conferees were scheduled to reconvene today to discuss the proposal.

“The Senate farm bill is a strong bill and should be the model for the final farm bill that will become law,” said Harkin, who also chairs the House-Senate conference committee on the farm bill.

“It addressed myriad national priorities and looked ahead to the future by strengthening farm income and disaster protection and filling the gaps in nutrition assistance, investing in farm-based renewable energy, helping farmers and ranchers conserve our natural resources, and devoting substantial new funding to initiatives for growers of fruits, vegetables and horticultural crops.”

The framework in the proposal “maintains the investments of the Senate-passed bill and, thanks to the Senate Finance Committee, it is deficit neutral,” Harkin added. “I urge House conferees to consider this framework and negotiate in good faith so that we can meet our April 18 deadline for the bill.”

One of the major obstacles remaining to the passage of a new farm bill centers on the disaster assistance provisions in the Senate bill. The framework, which Harkin says was agreed to by House and Senate leaders, has $10 billion in additional farm spending, including $4 billion for disaster assistance.

“Farmers from Montana to Minnesota to both coasts have made clear how much they need this disaster assistance, and this proposal delivers for farm families in need,” said Baucus, who has been fighting for a permanent disaster program because of the drought conditions in the Montana, Idaho and Oregon region.

“The Senate is showing a strong and appropriate commitment to nutrition programs and to our nation’s agricultural producers, and I’m confident that House conferees will work with us to finalize a good farm bill. We’ll just have to keep working together to come up with a final agreement that works for farmers and ranchers.”

“The Senate’s farm bill counter-offer affirms the House position on the core farm bill policies and shows how close we are to an agreement on those issues,” said Collin Peterson, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “But it also demonstrates that there is still work to do on financing the bill and other extraneous issues.”

He said the Senate’s proposal only further “muddies the water” on funding for the farm bill by scrapping the offsets recommended by the House and failing to offer alternative funding sources that are acceptable.

Claiming the Senate bill is closer to $12.5 billion over baseline, Peterson said the Senate proposal also breaks the previous agreement to limit above baseline spending in the bill to no more than $10 billion. “When we can’t agree on offsets for the core farm bill issues, adding $2.5 billion in tax giveaways that don’t even belong in the farm bill is counterproductive.”

During the first formal meeting of Senate and House conferees, Peterson tabled a proposal that was $5.5 billion above the baseline. The House proposal did not include a permanent disaster program or a number of tax extenders, both of which are included in the Senate proposal.

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