WASHINGTON – Members of Congress negotiating a multibillion-dollar farm bill continued to disagree Tuesday over the size of payments to wealthy farmers as President Bush renewed his call to reduce those subsidies.
Negotiators reached a tentative agreement last week on how to pay for the massive bill, which would cost almost $300 billion over the next five years, but have not finished resolving the policy. One of the last sticking points is how much would be paid to farmers in a time of record crop prices.
“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.”
Bush has threatened to veto the legislation and showed no signs of letting up on that threat.
“The bill Congress is now considering would fail to eliminate subsidy payments to multimillionaire farmers,” 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.”
Negotiators met behind closed doors Tuesday after postponing a scheduled public meeting in the afternoon. Current farm law expires at the end of the week after a series of short-term extensions, and lawmakers have said another one-week extension may be necessary.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Friday that lawmakers were considering an eventual limit on payments to high-earning “nonfarmers,” people who make only a small portion of their income from farming. But that wouldn’t impose any income limits on wealthy farmers, Peterson said.
The Bush administration sought much tougher limits that would apply to anyone who earned more than an average of $200,000 a year.
“It’s not the time to ask American families who are already paying more in the checkout line to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers,” Bush said. “Congress can reform our farm programs, and should, by passing a fiscally responsible bill that treats our farmers fairly and does not impose new burdens on American taxpayers.”
Bills passed by the House and Senate last year would still allow many wealthy farmers to collect payments. The Senate bill would eventually ban payments to the so-called “nonfarmers” whose 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 new income-based limits on what a farmer could collect, though the bill would ban some farmers from collecting payments for multiple farm businesses.
The House-passed bill would ban payments to all who earn an average $1 million a year or more. It also would ban some farmers from collecting payments for multiple businesses.
The current cap is $2.5 million.
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