Dozens of farm-state senators, acting as the Senate began debate Tuesday on the nomination of Atty. Gen.-designate Edwin Meese III, joined forces to try to delay Meese's confirmation until President Reagan agrees to at least $3 billion in emergency loan guarantees to bail out thousands of farmers on the verge of bankruptcy.
Led by Sens. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), J. James Exon (D-Neb.) and Mark Andrews (R-N.D.), the bipartisan group promised to stage a filibuster to keep the Meese nomination from coming to a scheduled Senate vote today.
They said the filibuster will continue until the Senate GOP leadership schedules a vote on a farm bail-out acceptable to them.
Cares About Meese
"I don't think the President of the United States cares much about agriculture policy," Boren said. "But he does care about the Meese nomination."
And, if necessary, the group is prepared for a long siege, Exon said. "I expect there is going to be a great delay--two to three months, two to three years--unless there is some movement toward a farm bill," he said.
Although the group has put forth no single bill, filibuster leaders indicated that they want $3 billion to $4 billion in loan guarantees. The Administration's proposed farm-credit plan would commit only $650 million for that purpose.
In response to the filibuster threat, Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) told the farm-state senators that he had relayed their demands to the White House. But Dole, who also represents a farm state, publicly rebuked them for tying up the Senate without even submitting draft legislation.
"Ed Meese has been waiting now for a year to become attorney general. We've been trying to solve the farm crisis for 40 years," he said. "Every year we've got another problem and another solution."
Andrews said the senators had decided on a filibuster because of the urgency of the situation, with planting season already beginning in many parts of the nation. "The Lord's calendar is fixed," he said.
Exon said the tactic has the support of "at least 80%" of the Senate's 47 Democrats, while Andrews estimated that as many as 20 Republican senators would also lend their support.
Sentiment for an emergency farm bail-out bill was fueled during the recent congressional recess, when many members faced stiff lobbying from farmers in their districts. An estimated 10% to 15% of the nation's farmers are so deeply in debt that they cannot afford to buy seed to plant.
Meanwhile, there are indications that Meese's Democratic opponents can muster enough support to approach the record 21 votes cast against Atty. Gen. Griffin Bell during the Jimmy Carter Administration. Still, Meese's opponents do not appear to have enough votes to defeat the nomination, and many supporters of the filibuster indicated that they will support him.
Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) announced his intention to vote no by unfurling a 20-foot-long list containing the names of 1,181 persons he called more qualfied than Meese to be attorney general. Speaking to a nearly deserted Senate chamber, he said Meese possesses "a pathetic lack of qualifications."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), whose panel recommended Meese on a 12-6 vote, contended that all the issues that blocked the nomination for a year have been resolved in Meese's favor.