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Financing the farm bill still a hurdle

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he's still working to complete a farm bill before the current extension of existing farm programs expires on April 18.

"I'm pulling every available lever to complete and get this thing done," he told reporters Wednesday. That included a three-hour meeting with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) over the weekend.

Two problems remain, he said. One is working out the final details of the sources of $10 billion in extra spending for the next farm bill over the next 10 years. The other is resolving differences between the House and Senate over a tax package of about $2.5 billion worked out by the Senate Finance Committee. Harkin said that it's his understanding that the leadership of the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel are opposed to the tax package.

Harkin said that any new farm bill must also have increased spending for nutrition programs, renewable energy, conservation and fruits and vegetable programs.

"Without all those parts, a new farm bill will not pass the Congress," he said.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee told reporters in a separate press conference Wednesday that he had sat in a meeting within the past 24 hours to deal with the $10 billion in new spending and that he has seen no progress on the issue in the last 6 weeks.

Harkin also told reporters that there could have been a farm bill by now if the Bush administration had not threatened a veto of the Senate version of a farm bill. The bill passed his committee without a dissenting vote and passed the full Senate by a vote of 79 to 14, he said, reflecting broad bipartisan support, "yet the White House said no, so that really is causing us a lot of problems," he said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he's still working to complete a farm bill before the current extension of existing farm programs expires on April 18.

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