WASHINGTON – Congress has sent a sixth extension of farm and nutrition programs to President Bush as lawmakers struggle to finish a farm bill that can survive a presidential veto.
Both the House and the Senate on Thursday passed a two-week extension of current law. Bush has threatened to veto the new legislation and has indicated he is not happy with the bill’s progress, saying earlier this week that it is “bloated” with subsidies for wealthy farmers.
Negotiators reached a tentative agreement last week on how to pay for the massive bill, which would cost almost $300 billion over five years, but are still resolving the policy, including how much would be paid to farmers in a time of record crop prices.
The bill’s negotiators have tried to appease Bush in the last few days, agreeing on stricter limits for those government payments. That agreement would still allow growers who earn up to $950,000 annually in farm income to receive payments, far from the $200,000 annual income cap the Bush administration originally suggested.
As of Wednesday, the administration still wasn’t happy with the plan. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Charles Conner said the proposal “does not move Congress closer to a farm bill that the president would sign.”
Farm-state lawmakers have said they don’t have the votes for more drastic cutbacks, mostly due to opposition from Southerners who represent cotton and rice farms, which are more expensive to run.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Republican, met Thursday with Bush to urge him to support the legislation. A spokeswoman said the meeting gave Chambliss “the opportunity to outline significant reforms” in the negotiators’ current proposal.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the meeting was private and would not detail Bush’s reaction Thursday. But he said the president is expected to sign the two-week extension.
Farm groups are not the only interests lobbying for the bill. Anti-hunger organizations are also pushing Congress to finish the legislation, as around two-thirds of the bill’s cost would pay for food stamps and other nutrition programs. The legislation includes a more than $10 billion boost for nutrition.
Rising food costs have added to that urgency.
“I cannot overemphasize how important it is for our elected officials in Washington, including President Bush, to complete their work on the farm bill and bring hope to the 25 million Americans our network serves,” said Vicki Escarra, president of America’s Second Harvest — The Nation’s Food Bank Network.
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