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Farm bill languishes in Senate

A Senate farm bill approved with strong bipartisan support by the Senate Agriculture Committee is being delayed by partisan bickering over the types of amendments that can be offered on the Senate floor.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said this week that he wants to limit amendments that are germane to the farm bill. The Republican leadership opposed limited amendments at first.

Some Republican amendments seem friendly to agricultural interests.

For example, Senator Pete Domenici (R-AZ) said Tuesday that he hopes to offer an amendment to the farm bill that would raise the renewable fuels standard (RFS), which is part of an energy bill the Senate has already passed but doesn't fit well with a House energy bill that has no RFS.

"I'm very hopeful this will meet the test," for being relevant to the farm bill, he said.

Reid said on the floor of the Senate Wednesday that he was working on a compromise with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to come up with a list of amendment acceptable to both parties.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis told Agriculture Online Wednesday that he's worried too many amendments on subjects not related directly to the farm bill -- immigration policy, the war in Iraq -- could bog down the bill.

"If we go down that road, it will just be an anchor on this farm bill and it probably won't move this year," Buis said.

He said farmers and their lenders need the certainty of a new farm law, which ag committee leaders in the Senate hoped would be signed by President George W. Bush in December.

The Bush administration is also threatening a veto of the farm bill if it includes increases for loan rates and target prices that it considers in conflict with its goals for World Trade Organization negotiations. It has also criticized the bill's cost and lack of enough reforms in payment limits.

Buis sees that move as counterproductive, too.

"It's pretty risky to go out there and threaten a veto before the bill has even passed the Senate," he said.

Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee haven't supported the administration's view so far. On Tuesday, former committee chairman and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss said in a statement, "I am deeply disappointed that the administration has expressed such strong discontent with the farm bill reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and substitute amendment from the Senate Finance Committee. Our committee worked for months to craft a strong bipartisan farm bill while remaining fiscally responsible. I truly believe we have made serious reforms and meaningful improvements to current law considering the budget constraints we are facing.

"However, we will make an effort to address their concerns as we continue to debate the measure on the Senate floor," Chambliss continued. "It is our job as legislators to authorize farm policy and given the tax provisions in the House and Senate farm bills, we have a challenging process ahead."

Besides partisan bickering, the Senate has a busy schedule before it adjourns for Thanksgiving.

Late Wednesday the Senate was considering overriding the President's veto of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Part of the $23 billion bill would go to modernizing locks and dams on the Mississippi River, a priority of the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association.

A Senate farm bill approved with strong bipartisan support by the Senate Agriculture Committee is being delayed by partisan bickering over the types of amendments that can be offered on the Senate floor.

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