HOUSE AND SENATE CONFEREES BEGIN FARM BILL TALKS
"WASHINGTON, D.C." The House and Senate farm bill conferees are expected to formally meet this week for the first time. It is expected to be a contentious meeting since last week's revelation that the Senate bill was underestimated by a total of $6.1 billion in the commodity title.
That discovery means that the total cost to the Senate bill was closer to $80 billion, and was not in compliance with the budget resolution of $73.5 billion. The discrepancy was discovered by the Congressional Budget Office when it estimated that farmers would receive 85 percent of current payment levels - the same rate as the House bill. However, the Senate bill continued payments at 100 percent of the current rate.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, originally contemplated reducing the total commodity title from $45.9 billion to $39.8 billion, but later reversed himself and called for the extra spending to be restored in this year's budget resolution. That call was quickly answered when both the House and Senate budget chairmen signaled they would not agree to the increase.
Opponents of the payment limitations amendment sponsored by Senators Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.;and Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; also gained ground when several senators who previously had supported the amendment wrote the chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to say they hoped the conference would agree to the higher House limit of $550,000. Fifteen senators from at least 8 states, including Senators Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, and Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, wrote the conferees urging opposition to the senate payment limit of $275,000 because of its disproportionate effect on family farmers, its effect on marketing loans, and its effect on smaller farmers of lower-value crops.
Both the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee pledged to try and work out their differences before the Easter recess (March 22) but made no promises. House Ag Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, has repeatedly said that he would rather have a good bill, and would wait as long as it took for that to happen.