Farm Bill agreement in handby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
A congressional conference committee will be working through the weekend in an effort to finalize a $300 billion Farm Bill. The legislation pays for farm subsidies conservation, alternative energy, and nutrition programs for the next five years. The process has been contentious and may end with a showdown between Congress and the President.
Moorhead, Minn. — The Farm Bill has something for nearly everyone, from food stamps to ethanol subsidies and that means many people want a bigger piece of the pie.
There have been six extensions of the current Farm Bill because the legislation has bogged down.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) chairs the House Agriculture Committee. He says it's been a long, frustrating process.
"We have been playing wack-a-mole, if you understand that game, for the last number of weeks here," Peterson says. "There's so many competing interests, you just get one thing solved and three things pop up someplace else."
Even when all those competing interests are satisfied, there's still the biggest hurdle, the White House.
Earlier this week, President Bush signaled his displeasure with the bill, calling it bloated and short on reform.
"America's farm economy is thriving. The value of farmland is skyrocketing," the president said. "This is the right time to reform our nations farm policies by reducing unnecessary subsidies. It's not the time to ask American families who are already paying more in the checkout line to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers."
Rep. Peterson says if the Farm Bill were written to satisfy the White House, it would be voted down in Congress.
"Frankly, I'm pretty upset that they would take this position after all the effort I made to work with them," Peterson says.
The representative contends this Farm Bill expands nutrition programs, creates a better safety net for farmers that will cost the government less, improves conservation programs and reduces direct subsidies to wealthy farmers.
Peterson says the media focus on the issue of payments to wealthy farmers oversimplifies a complex piece of legislation.
"There's just a huge amount of good stuff in this bill that moves us in the right direction and we're getting no credit for it," he explains. "Because frankly, these people in these big city editorial rooms have no clue what they're writing about. And they're pontificating like they understand this whole thing and we're a bunch of idiots."
Peterson expects the Farm Bill to be on the House floor next week. It's expected to have strong bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate.
U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) is also on the conference committee crafting the final legislation. He says there's been a good faith effort to work with the president, now it's time for a showdown.
"We want the White House to sign this bill, we're trying to accommodate their concerns. But if they don't, this bill will have the full participation by both political parties as it passes the House and Senate," Pomeroy says. "We believe we're going to have a level of support where if veto override is what it takes, veto override is what we're going to give them."
Farmers, conservation groups and social service agencies will all be watching closely as that showdown happens sometime in the next two weeks.
- All Things Considered, 05/02/2008, 4:50 p.m.