Springfield State Journal-Register

December 6, 2001

White House opposes Democratic farm bill 


WASHINGTON - As the Senate began debate on a new farm bill Wednesday, the Bush administration said it "strongly opposed" the Democratic-backed bill that came out of committee.

The bill would "expand the government's role in agriculture in a way that threatens the financial health of the farm sector,
compromises our efforts to expand markets abroad for American farm products and harms American consumers, especially those with lower incomes," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a formal statement of policy.

While it stopped short of a veto threat, the formal White House position ratcheted up the partisan fight over the bill approved
by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Nov. 15.

An attempt by conservative Republicans to block consideration of the bill Wednesday was defeated, 73-26. Those favoring the
Democrats' bill, as well as those who back an alternative GOP amendment supported by the White House, voted to proceed
with the debate.

However, the Senate debate is expected to stretch out over several days and possibly longer if agreements on defense appropriations and an economic stimulus package are reached and brought to the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, are
pushing to finish the farm bill before Congress adjourns for the year.

"Farmers need to know what the farm bill is going to be, and they need to know now," Harkin argued.

But several Republicans took to the Senate floor to warn against a rush to pass legislation that may ultimately harm farmers. Current farm law does not expire until next year.

"We have an economy that desperately needs attention," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas.

The Senate bill would cost $170 billion over 10 years, although it would require reauthorization after five years.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, reiterating comments she made last week, warned that continuing generous subsidies to
farmers encourages overproduction and keeps prices low. Increased subsidies proposed in the Senate bill also would violate
limits set in trade agreements, undermining administration efforts to convince trading partners to phase out export subsidies and
open their markets to American exports, the administration argued.

The GOP alternative would increase fixed payments to farmers and provide matching funds for farmers' saving accounts to
draw on in hard times.

Meanwhile, Democrats are still reworking their bill in an attempt to attract broader support.

Harkin has agreed to increase funding for conservation programs to $4.4 billion over five years from $3.6 billion contained in the committee bill, according to environmentalists. The agreement heads off one potentially controversial amendment.

The bill's disputed dairy provisions also are being revised.