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Conferees to announce farm bill agreement

Congressional negotiators have reached final agreement on a 2008 farm bill conference report, setting up a possible showdown with the White House over the five-year legislative package.

Negotiators were releasing few details on the conference report, which must be submitted to both Houses of Congress and then to the president, ahead of a press briefing scheduled for 12:30 p.m. central time today. They said they were waiting, in part, on CBO scoring for the bill.

Sources said they believe Congressional Budget Office analysts will put the cost at $10 billion over the current baseline or $570 billion over 10 years. Negotiators said the bill would provide increased funding for “conservation, energy, nutrition and rural development while continuing and strengthening farm income protection.”

“I feel obligated to hold back until we get a final score, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House-Senate farm bill conference committee, told reporters Wednesday afternoon (May 7).

The legislation reportedly would ban payments to farmers with more than $750,000 in agriculture-related gross income or $500,000 in non-agriculture adjusted gross income to move the bill closer to the White House goal of a $200,000 AGI cutoff point. But those provisions apparently will not satisfy the White House.

“I am afraid the new agreement will contain other issues we find even more objectionable,” said an administration official. “The negotiators have decided to add a number of tax and trade-related provisions — some that were never considered by the House and Senate.”

President Bush has said he would veto any legislation that contains tax increases between now and the time he leaves office in January 2009.

Despite the claims the bill would only be $10 billion over baseline, the administration official, who asked not to be identified, said the conference committee agreement would actually spend $14 billion over baseline, despite cuts in spending on farm programs.

“According to the latest reports, the negotiators were considering cutting $400 million for direct payments. That coupled with cuts in cotton target prices and cotton and rice loan rates would mean cotton and rice farmers would actually receive less under this farm bill than the current law.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that farmers have supported a farm bill that cuts their programs and spends $10 billion more for nutrition. I don’t understand that.”

The reported increases in nutrition, conservation and energy spending appear to be aimed at making an end-run around the White House, which threatened a presidential veto almost before the ink was dry on the House- and Senate-passed versions of the farm bill.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he informed White House officials he would work to override a veto if the president followed through on the threat.

Chambliss, who met with the president to outline the conference committee position last week, said Congress had moved as close to the administration position as it could, and “my goal will be to override a veto if it comes.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, (R-Va.) ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, said the word “veto” did not come up when he met with President Bush to discuss the legislation yesterday (May 7). “But the president is not pleased with what he sees in the bill.”


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