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Republicans ask for farm bill meeting with Bush

Republican senators reportedly are asking for a meeting with President Bush to discuss his latest criticism of the ongoing efforts to reach a compromise agreement on the 2008 farm bill.

After the president complained about a “massive, bloated” farm bill during a Rose Garden news conference at the White House Tuesday, Republicans leaders, including Saxby Chambliss, ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, appeared to have decided enough is enough.

“We have a farm bill you can sign,” Chambliss indicated the group of Republican senators would tell the president during the meeting they were requesting at the White House. “We need him to understand this is good policy.”

Although the president complained about the increased spending, he still seems to be smarting over the criticism he received five years ago after he signed the 2002 farm bill. Environmental groups and conservative think tanks said the current law was too generous to larger farmers.

Claiming the current bill would do little to address rising food prices, Bush said, “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.”

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner met with House and Senate ag leaders to convey the president’s concerns that the bill did not do enough to address income and payment limits for farmers.

Noting that farmers are also being whipsawed by rising input costs and commodity markets that have threatened to spin out of control because of lack of federal regulation, some farm leaders expressed dismay at the president’s comments.

“This president has been fed a line by some people who don’t understand production agriculture, and he just keeps spouting that line over and over again,” said one farm organization president who asked not be to be identified.

There was no immediate word on when the Republican senators might have their meeting with the president. Chambliss said he was asking for the meeting on behalf of Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Their request came as Democrats in the House and Senate said they believed they were getting closer to being able to override a veto if the president followed through on threats by administration officials.

“If the White House is stupid enough to veto this bill, they’re going to get overridden,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, sounding even more blunt than usual.

Peterson and other members of the House-Senate conference committee spent Tuesday working on the details of Commodity Credit Corp. loan rates and target prices for program crops, fruit and vegetable research and promotion funding and other controversial issues they were unable to resolve when they completed a new framework agreement for the farm bill the week of April 21.

Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and of the farm bill conference committee, said members made some movement more toward the administration position on the farm bill.

“But I hope the White House doesn’t think they will get 100 percent of what they want because we didn’t get 100 percent of what we want,” said Harkin a Democrat from Iowa.


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