WASHINGTON (AP) – Partisan differences over taxes, spending and other matters stopped Senate debate on a $286 billion farm bill just as it got underway Tuesday, signaling that progress on the measure will be protracted and difficult.
Republicans bristled when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., slapped limits on their ability to offer amendments. Reid said he had no choice because Republicans refused to restrict amendments to issues clearly related to the bill.
GOP leaders vowed to block further action until Reid relented. “We’re not going to let him pick our amendments,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Reid said he was willing to discuss the matter with McConnell, but also signaled that Democrats might try to force action later in the week by voting to cut off debate. The move requires 60 votes in the 100-member chamber.
Reid said he did not want senators to offer amendments on issues such as Iraq, labor and ending the estate tax, a GOP favorite. Republicans said labor questions, estate taxes and many other issues involve farmers, and therefore proposed amendments should not be tightly restricted.
The White House formally issued a veto threat Tuesday, saying the legislation would not adequately protect farmers and would threaten World Trade Organization talks. The bill uses “budget gimmicks,” it said, by delaying some farm payments until after the measure expires in five years.
“At a time when net farm income is projected to increase by over $28 billion in one year, it is irresponsible to further increase commodity price supports that make payment programs more market-distorting,” the White House said in a statement.
Some senators want to reduce the billions of dollars in annual subsidies paid to growers of corn, wheat, cotton, rice and other major crops.
The Senate legislation does attempt to limit subsidies by eventually banning payments to “nonfarmers” whose adjusted income averages more than $750,000 a year. The bill defines farmers as those who earn more than two-thirds of their income from agriculture.
There would be no income-based limits on what a farmer could collect, though the bill would ban individual farmers from collecting payments for multiple farm businesses.
Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, plan an amendment that would limit a married couple to $250,000 in subsidies per year. Current law allows $360,000 annually.
The farm legislation would also extend federal nutrition programs, including food stamps, and boost conservation programs to protect environmentally sensitive land.
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