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The last farm bill meeting?

Farm bill leaders were meeting behind closed doors again Tuesday afternoon to work out final areas of disagreement.

Before the meeting started, one of the members of that group, Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowan who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said that there were four main areas of disagreement in the commodity title.

Grassley said the four areas are the level of adjusted gross income limits, the level of limits on direct payments, whether the AGI should apply to conservation program payments, and, depending on how much money AGI limits might save, where offsets would come from if they don't save as much as was expected.

Last week, farm bill leaders agreed to put a $500,000 cap on commodity payments to nonfarmers that would phase in by the year 2011. They also agreed to cuts in direct payments made to farmers with income above $950,000.

Grassley is one of the strongest supporters in the Senate for putting a strict limit on farm programs payments. Along with Senator Byron Dorgan (N-ND), he sponsored an amendment that would have capped payments at $250,000 per couple. It fell four votes short of the 60 needed to get the bill through the Senate.

Grassley said he doesn't know whether President Bush will sign the new farm bill Congress is expected to pass soon.

"It's very difficult to know whether we have a bill the President would sign because they've been very indefinite on what they would do and I think they're holding their cards close to the vest," he said.

He said that members of Congress are working to show at least a good faith effort to move in the direction of changes the White House wanted in the farm bill, whether or not all of them will satisfy the President.

"There is a real desire to pass a bill the President will sign," Grassley said.

A shift in strategy came after the President's press conference a week ago, when President George W. Bush called the farm bill bloated and called again for reform.

"There wasn't anybody willing to do anything in a cap on farm income," Grassley said of the farm bill leaders meeting behind closed doors. "And the President gives his news conference, And all of a sudden within a half-hour the talk is, we've got to do something in the area of caps on farm income to satisfy the President if we want any hope of getting this thing done."

Grassley said the President has to be willing to compromise and that there's "a snowball's chance in Hades" that Congress will support the Administration's original proposal for a $200,000 adjusted gross income limit on farmers and nonfarmers. He said if President Bush indicated in a veto message that he would accept a $500,000 limit on farmers and nonfarmers, "Then I would say, sustain a veto and rewrite the existing bill so it could be signed."

Otherwise, Grassley said he would vote to override any presidential veto.

"The reforms we have in this bill are way beyond anything that I would have expected once didn't get the Dorgan Grassley amendment adopted on the floor of the Senate.," he said.

They include a limit of $150,000 in losses that can be claimed on the income tax Schedule F, for farm income. That, he said, might accomplish as much as he had hoped with the Dorgan-Grassley amendment.

But he said Congress is now concentrating on putting together a bill that has enough votes from members of both the Senate and House to override a veto.

"The bottom line is, "if we can't satisfy the President, then write a bill that satisfies two-thirds of both Houses," Grassley said.

If the closed door meeting comes up with a final compromise, observers of the farm bill in Washington say that there may not be any more public meetings of the conference committee. Members of the committee would simply sign off on a final farm bill that still has to go to the House and Senate for a vote before sending it to the President.

Farm bill leaders were meeting behind closed doors again Tuesday afternoon to work out final areas of disagreement.

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