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Gridlock

Agriculture.com Staff 11/14/2007 @ 1:16pm

If you care to tune in to C-SPAN2 today, you'll hear a lot of talk about the farm bill from the floor of the U.S. Senate.

You won't see any voting.

So far, both political parties have been unable to agree to a way to proceed with debate on the bill, even though most farm organizations want a bill this year. In a nutshell, Republican members of the Senate would like to debate more than 250 amendments to the farm bill before the Senate breaks for Thanksgiving on Friday. The Democrats want to reach an agreement to consider or more limited number of amendments from both parties. So far, no agreement to limit amendments has been reached.

"I'm extremely frustrated here," said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. His committee worked hard and voted out a bill with "not one dissenting vote in committee," he said. "It's a good bill.

"I just want to make it clear. We on this side are ready to do business. We have been for a week," Harkin said.

He said that when he last farm bill was passed, there were 53 amendments. In 1996, there were 24.

But when Harkin tried to start debate on the bill by giving Republican members of his committee a change to offer amendments, the ranking Republican member of his committee, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, objected.

Harkin's disappointment was repeated by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip.

"You don't need to be a C-SPAN addict to figure out what is going on here," Durbin said. "The Republicans don't want us to finish a farm bill."

In a telephone press conference. Senator John Thune (R-SD) blamed the delays on the Democrats' unwillingness to consider a large number of amendments. "This is what I think Harry Reid is doing," he said, referring to the Democratic Majority Leader.

Thune has offered an amendment to the farm bill that would increase the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which was originally part of a stalled Energy Bill. He argues that it should be considered a germane amendment that would strengthen the farm bill's own energy title.

When asked if the Bush administration, which has raised objections to portions of the bill, is encouraging a delay of the farm bill, Thune said, "we've not heard that from them." If anything, he said, adding a RFS to the bill would strengthen its appeal to the White House, he said.

Thune said he's not getting pressure from any farm groups to delay the bill. Most want a new farm bill, he said.

"I just had the soybean growers in my office this morning," he said.

Even though early in the farm bill debate, some groups advocating just extending the 2002 farm bill, Thune said that doing that would leave out changes in the new farm bill that are popular, including support for development of cellulosic ethanol and a new permanent disaster program.

"Most producers in my region of the country are very supportive of that (permanent disaster)," he said. "I think they want to see a bill."

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