The Senate will grant another one-week extension through May 2 to allow the Senate-House farm bill conference to work out funding problems for the new farm bill. The House is expected to take up the extension Thursday afternoon for the weekend.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin reported during floor discussion on the extension that major progress had been made Wednesday behind closed doors on thorny tax issues that have plagued an agreement on the farm bill. Both Harkin and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the committee's Republican leader, reported that the $2.5 billion, bipartisan tax package sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee was the major sticking point for the negotiations. Both the House and Senate agriculture committees had to look for additional funding from their respective tax committees to fund the priorities of the farm bill. Two- thirds of the total bill funding goes toward domestic food stamp and nutrition programs.
The Senate tax writers' demand to provide the funding, but add the tax package, has been met with resistance on the House side. Sen. Harkin said Thursday morning that involving the tax committees in the farm bill debate, "is not going to happen again." It gave the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee "control of our agenda," he said. "If this had just been our bill (the ag committees), the bill would have been done."
During the Senate's floor discussion, Sen. Larry Craig,R-Idaho, blocked an attempt by Harkin for a two- week extension - a decision that will force Harkin to seek yet another extension on Friday, May 2. Harkin said "it is humanly and legislatively impossible to complete the bill" by May 2. He cited procedural steps needed for drafting of the new language and approval of the conference report by both chambers. Craig, who has sought to keep a sense of urgency on the farm bill negotiations, agreed that if the work was down to "paperwork" by next Friday, he would not block a further extension.
Earlier this week the President pressed the conference committee for a one-year extension of the 2002 Farm Bill. However, it is expected he will sign off on this extension.