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Farm groups unite--against House ag bill 'framework'

Agriculture.com Staff 02/14/2008 @ 2:30pm

The bipartisan leaders of the House agriculture committee have succeeded in uniting a broad coalition of farm group--against the outline of a farm bill that might meet White House objections to the House's more expensive bill passed last summer.

Shortly after House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson defended the proposal Wednesday as just an example of how a leaner farm bill might be passed that wouldn't draw a presidential veto, farm groups began issuing press releases opposing it. The National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and National Farmers Union were among the first.

Thursday, a coalition of more than 40 groups, including those three, American Farm Bureau Federation, the Farm Credit Council, American Corn Growers, and commodity groups representing rice, wheat, sorghum, and cotton sent a polite but blunt letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.

"…the undersigned organizations believe the framework negotiated between the House committee leadership and the administration is seriously under-funded," the letter says. "The Commodity Title has already experienced a 60 percent decrease in baseline spending. To strain the safety net for American agriculture with a further $6.5 billion cut is excessive. While the administration is demanding that a bill be written with only $6 billion in offsets, we believe that providing less than $12.5 billion in additional funding will require the farmer safety net to bear the unfair burden of paying for increases in spending in other areas of the bill."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) told reporters Thursday that he agrees with Peterson that the House, Senate and White House all have to agree on how much money can be spent on a farm bill before the House and Senate can draw up a final version of a farm bill.

"I agree with Collin on this," Harkin said. "We've got to get a number, something we can agree on. Then we change our policies to fit in that framework."

TOO LITTLE MONEY

But Harkin also said members of the Senate believe the House proposal, which is about $6 billion over the budget baseline, is too little money.

'In the Senate I can tell you there is strong interest in going above the funding level authorized by the House," Harkin said, but he refused to say how much more he would like to use as a starting point.

He said nothing would happen unless the White House recognizes that the Senate farm bill had strong bipartisan support, passing with 79 votes.

"I hope the President will become an active partner in negotiations, particularly on the matter of funding," Harkin said.

If that doesn't happen, Harkin said Congress has three options. One would be to pass a bill, let President Bush veto it and try to override the veto. Harkin said he believes that would be possible in the Senate but that the House, which passed a farm bill by a narrow partisan majority, is unwilling to try to override the veto.

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