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A race to the farm bill finish line?

Agriculture.com Staff 04/15/2008 @ 2:23pm

House and Senate members of the farm bill conference committee quickly approved all or most of three titles in the new law Tuesday, those covering credit, trade and research.

But real progress, if any, was taking place behind closed doors as leaders of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees tried to reach an agreement on how to pay for the next farm bill.

And, in public, several prominent Republicans on the conference committee hinted that they were more interested in writing a law that both parties in Congress can support than in trying to meet all of the demands of the Bush Administration.

It was even clearer Tuesday that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) have a tough job before them.

The House wants to increase farm bill spending by between $5.5 billion and $6 billion over the next ten years while the Senate's package calls for $10 billion in increased spending and $2.5 billion in ag-related tax cuts.

Rangel told the conference committee that he had offered to meet with Baucus to try to resolve those differences.

Baucus agreed to the need to act quickly.

"Chairman Rangel and I are going to have a little sit-down. We're going to talk about this," Baucus announced. "We will do our level best to try to find a solution, hopefully today."

If they reach an agreement, the House will have to vote for another one-month extension of the farm bill on Wednesday, Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said. The House won't be in session on Friday, the day the latest extension of the farm bill expires. Peterson said he opposes a long-term extension of the current farm bill.

Sources for new money for the farm bill from the House and Senate are still far apart and facing powerful opposition.

In the House, both Democrats and Republicans support a change in tax laws that would require banks to report credit card and debit card transactions to retailers. The idea was part of the Bush Administration's own budget for 2009, said Matthew Beck, a spokesman for the Ways and Means Committee. And better reporting of that taxable income of merchants would bring in more than $13 billion in uncollected taxes to the federal government over the next decade, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson told reporters last Friday. The reporting requirements would be phased in and the Ag Committee planned to use only $5.5 billion of that, Peterson said.

But on Monday, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner told reporters in Washington that President Bush would veto a farm bill with that source of revenue.

In a telephone press conference Tuesday, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, reported resistance to the idea from lenders.

"We were having the small banks in rural America fighting the credit card thing," Grassley said.

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