The Senate passed a fiscal year 2008 budget resolution that creates a $15-billion reserve fund to provide increased spending on farm programs in the 2007 farm bill Congress is expected to write later this year.
The Senate measure, approved by a vote of 52-47, also promises to balance the federal budget by 2012, provides a two-year fix for the alternative minimum tax that is having an impact on more middle income families and fully funds President Bush's request for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is an important turning point for the country, considering that three of the last five years we have not had a budget,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
“At the end of the day the test for us is — can we write a budget for the country?” the North Dakota Democrat said. “It is our obligation and our responsibility to put a budget in place to begin the difficult task of balancing the books and meeting the priority needs of our nation.”
The Senate vote sets up at least one conflict with the House budget resolution, which contains a $20 billion set-aside for farm bill spending that was provided by the House Budget Committee.
“We didn't get everything we wanted, but to get a $20 billion set-aside is a step in the right direction,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. “We still have to deal with the pay-as-you-go rules. We're not sure how those will be applied.”
Critics note neither the House nor the Senate's added farm bill funding is guaranteed. The spending must be offset by spending decreases in other parts of the federal budget or tax increases.
The final budget resolution will not be binding on either house but is designed to provide guidance to authorizing committees such as the House agriculture committee.
“The main thing is that we have basically the amount of money in the budget that we need to try to do the right thing for the farm bill,” he said. “We'll keep working on the process. Hopefully, this resolution will get resolved between the House and the Senate since they are very familiar.”
The House was scheduled to debate and vote on its version of the budget resolution the week of March 26.
Peterson said he hopes the House and Senate can reach a compromise on the budget resolution by mid- to late April “so that I can begin to get the chairman's mark together” on the farm bill.