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Bush displeased, farm bill conference postponed

By now, the stop-and-start nature of farm bill negotiations must have conferees close to whiplash.

Promising specifics on a farm bill deal worked out last week, conferees were supposed to meet on Tuesday.

That plan was scuttled when, shortly before the afternoon conference, President Bush held a press conference and voiced continuing displeasure with the proposed legislation.

“Americans are concerned about rising food prices,” Bush said. “Unfortunately, Congress is considering a massive, bloated farm bill that would do little to solve the problem. The bill Congress is now considering would fail to eliminate subsidy payments to multimillionaire farmers.

“America’s farm economy is thriving, the value of farmland is skyrocketing, and this is the right time to reform our nation’s farm policies by reducing unnecessary subsidies. It’s not the time to ask American families who are already paying more in the check-out line to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers.”

Asked whether Bush would sign the farm bill if it lands on his desk, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schaefer’s reported answer was a shrug. Southern agriculture will be especially troubled that during a conversation with agriculture journalists, Schaefer said reforms in the bill were “nowhere near” levels demanded by the White House.

The deadline for the farm bill — already extended several times in recent weeks — is Friday. According to several sources, another short-term extension is likely.

Reached Wednesday morning, staff of Mid-South conferees said no conference had yet been scheduled. Attempts to hammer out a deal behind closed doors continue.

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