2002 farm law extended for another month
The Senate on Wednesday voted to extend the current farm bill to April 18 and the House approved the extension late Wednesday evening.
The extension comes with some key lawmakers expressing optimism that agreement is near on how much will be spend on a new farm bill, where the money will come from, and how demands from the White House for reform will be met.
Earlier this week, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he didn't think a farm bill would be finished before Congress' two-week Easter Recess, which begins March 15.
"There's more positive talk than ever before, but it won't be done by Friday," Grassley said.
In a statement released after the Senate approved an extension, Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), also sounded upbeat.
"We continue to make progress on the farm bill," Harkin said. "Talks continue on a bipartisan basis between Senate and House negotiators and each day brings us closer to resolution. Although a new bill is within reach, Congress needs more time to reach agreement and obtain the necessary cooperation from the White House."
So far, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a farm bill that would spend around $10 billion above a ten-year baseline of projected costs. And Grassley has said that he believes some of the White House proposals for sources of spending may be acceptable to members of Congress. The White House has also been pushing for more reform on payments made to wealthy individuals but has reportedly agreed that it would accept a cutoff on payments to those making more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income annually.
But one Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee held out the possibility that Congress may try to pass a farm bill that has enough support to override any veto of the legislation by President George W. Bush.
"We have the votes in the Senate to override the veto," Senator John Thune (R-SD) told reporters Thursday.
Thune said he thought the House Agriculture Committee has already made too many concessions to the White House before the Senate and House have even had a meeting of a conference committee to draft a final bill. He disagreed with the House committee's acceptance of a cut in Conservation Reserve Program by 7 million acres.
"I think it was a mistaken strategy in the first place to try to negotiate with the White House," Thune said.
"I'd like to have a bill the President can sign, too, but you can't get the cart before the horse," he said.
Thune acknowledged that the House passed its farm bill by a narrower vote last summer, mostly along party lines. But he said he has been talking with Republicans in the House who also want a farm bill and he believes the House, too, can pass a bill with enough support to override any veto. For that to happen, the bill would have to have a reasonable spending level, not raise taxes and include some of the White House suggestions for the farm bill, he said.