Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer briefed reporters Tuesday about Farm Bill deliberations. Last week the President signed an extension of current farm law until April 18 to give Congress more time to finish a bill. Schafer stressed the fact that if the final bill sent to the President contained tax increases or failed to reform farm policy it would be met with a veto.
"America's farmers deserve better than a series of short-term extensions of current law," Schafer says. "They need to know what farm policy is going to be so they can make sound business decisions about what to plant this year and how they are going to finance it."
According to Schafer if Congress fails to complete a bill by April 18, the President will request an extension of the 2002 Farm Bill for at least a year.
Although Congress is in recess for the two-week Easter Break, according to Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, negotiations and meetings about the farm bill are continuing. Staff members of conference conferees began meeting over the weekend.
"There is an evolving process," Grassley says. "The idea is to not let the legislation sit idly during the Easter Break when most members leave Washington and to allow staff to sort through smaller differences."
Grassley says that progress has been made on funding the bill, which has been a major hang up in moving forward. Offsets have been found for about half of the $10 billion above baseline that Congress and the White House have agreed on, but are having some problems with the other half.
"Some of us feel that when the President has proposed some tax changes and we want to duplicate those tax changes and use them on the farm bill that they shouldn't be considered tax increases," Grassley says. "So we're still negotiating with the White House on those points."
A bright spot according to Grassley is that progress has been made with the House Ways and Means Committee accepting what Senate Finance is working on. The hospitalization of Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangle, D-N.Y., has limited talks between committee leadership, but Grassley says talking to senior staff for Ways and Means it seems Ways and Means will go along.