FARM BILL DEBATE HEATS UP
"Montgomery, Ala." With the holiday recess looming, the U.S. Senate is scrambling to get its version of the farm bill passed before the end of the year.
House Agriculture Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, was critical of Senate leadership for not taking up the bill earlier in the session. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle countered saying there would still be time to work out a compromise after the recess, if the Senate approved its farm bill before the holiday break.
Adding to the confusion was an alternative Senate bill offered by Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., that would preserve the existing marketing loan program in lieu of "market distorting" payments. The Bush administration supported the less costly Cochran-Roberts plan, but pledged not to obstruct passage of a farm bill this year.
Earlier in the session, the House passed its version of the farm bill (HR 2646) by a 291-120 vote. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version of the bill (S 1731) in November.
Both bills would continue fixed payments and make soybeans eligible for future payments. Under the House plan, historic crop yields would not be updated while the Senate plan would give producers the option to update their yields and base acres. Payment rates were generally higher under the Senate plan for crop years 2002-03, but declined sharply in subsequent years. The House version called for more moderate, but stable, payment rates.
Loan rates would be rebalanced under either bill with the Senate rates being slightly higher. Counter-cyclical payments, however, were higher in the House version. While specifics varied, both bills would expand conservation programs, extend price supports for milk, create non-recourse loans for honey, wool and mohair and replace the peanut quota program with a marketing loan provision.