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Hoping for a farm bill landslide

Agriculture.com Staff 05/13/2008 @ 3:10pm

Led by National Farmers Union, 557 groups have signed a letter urging members of Congress to vote for the farm bill, which was posted on the House and Senate Agriculture Committee websites Tuesday.

The House could vote on the bill in less than 24 hours, on Wednesday. That's the crucial battleground for passing a bill with enough votes to override President George Bush's expected veto.

In a statement from the White House, President Bush repeated his opposition to the bill.

"I am deeply disappointed in the conference report filed today as it falls far short of the proposal my Administration put forward. If this bill makes it to my desk, I will veto it," the President said. "Today's farm economy is very strong and that is something to celebrate. It is also an appropriate time to better target subsidies and put forth real reform. Farm income is expected to exceed the 10-year average by fifty percent this year, yet Congress' bill asks American taxpayers to subsidize the incomes of married farmers who earn $1.5 million per year. I believe doing so at a time of record farm income is irresponsible and jeopardizes America's support for necessary farm programs."

Bush also criticized the bill's cost, which he said has about $20 billion in new spending and its rebalancing of some loan rates and target prices. The Administration views that as a trade-distorting increase in farm program spending. He asked Congress to extend current farm law for at least one year.

Meanwhile, the letters urging the House and Senate to ignore Bush may be the only time a letter backing a farm bill has been signed by groups as diverse as the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, Kenai Peninsula (Alaska) Food Bank, and Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease Foundation. (Mad Cow is a variant of Cruetzfeld-Jakob Disease). Scores of local food banks signed on to back a bill that puts most of its new money into food stamps and nutrition programs.

Notably absent are livestock and packer groups including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and National Pork Producers, as well as most environmental groups. American Farmland Trust and the National Association of Conservation Districts signed. So did Dairy Farmers of America, a large dairy co-op, and R-CALF USA.

"This is by no means a perfect piece of legislation, and none of our organizations achieved everything we had individually requested," their letter says. "However, it is a carefully balanced compromise of policy priorities that has broad support among organizations representing the nation's agriculture, conservation, and nutrition interests."

Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for another group that signed the letter, American Farm Bureau Federation, told Agriculture Online that Farm Bureau members are meeting today with members of the House urging a vote for the bill. Some who are waivering are saying they still have questions about exactly what's in the bill, she said.

It would take 290 members of the House to override a veto but a simple majority to pass the bill this week.

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