Springfield Journal-Register

November 29, 2001

Bush jabs Senate farm bill 
  Makes call for 'generous but affordable' legislation 


WASHINGTON - With Senate action looming on a farm subsidy bill, President Bush indirectly jabbed at the pending Democratic legislation by calling Wednesday for a "generous but affordable" bill that won't stimulate overproduction.

"A good farm bill should keep a safety net under our food producers without misleading our farmers into overproducing crops that are already in oversupply," Bush told a farm conference here.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he hopes to bring the farm bill up for a Senate vote this week or next week despite a threatened GOP filibuster.

Although the current farm law doesn't expire until next year, Daschle cited low crop prices as evidence of the "urgent need" to address farm policy this year. Many farm-state lawmakers and farm group lobbyists fear there will be less money available if they wait until next year.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, addressing the farm conference separately Wednesday, outlined the administration's objections to the bill, approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Nov. 15. Proposed increases in marketing loan rates contained in that bill would encourage overproduction and drive down crop prices, Veneman said.

"This creates pressure for more government payments, thereby creating a self-defeating and ultimately unsustainable cycle," said Veneman.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Ron Warfield was among the dozens of farm group representatives on Capitol Hill Wednesday urging speedy Senate action.

"We need to go ahead and pass a farm bill," said Warfield, who prefers the House bill but wants to keep the process moving.

When it reaches the Senate floor, the bill faces several amendments including an alternative Republican subsidy plan backed by the administration. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., supported the GOP plan in committee but hasn't decided how he will vote in the full Senate.

Bush endorsed a provision in the GOP alternative that would offer farmers matching funds to deposit in savings accounts that they could draw on in hard times. The provision would replace a proposed "countercylical" program, supported by the major farm groups, that would pay farmers when crop prices fall below certain levels.

Another major floor fight is expected over an amendment to shift billions of dollars from crop subsidies to conservation programs, a move that advocates say would channel federal farm aid to more farmers in more states.

Other Republicans have threatened to attach an energy bill to the farm legislation, if it is brought up for a vote.

Notably, the Bush administration is no longer urging Congress to delay action until next year. Veneman conceded that it would be futile, given the strong push for action in Congress. She said Wednesday's comments were meant to lay out the administration's objections in an attempt to influence the process.

She said it's "premature" to discuss whether the president would veto any bill that mirrors either the House or Senate versions. Historically, farm bills have been rewritten in House-Senate conference, she said.

Both the House and Senate bills would cost about $170 billion over 10 years, but the Senate bill would spend more money in the first five years and would require reauthorization after that.

Veneman also criticized both House and Senate versions of the farm bill as likely to violate international trade agreements. The proposals would leave it up to the agriculture secretary to reduce farmers' payments should they approach the subsidy limits.

"This ad hoc approach creates a new uncertainty for producers would they get the payments or would the payments have to be pared back?" she asked.