House and Senate negotiators scrambled late Tuesday to meet President Bush’s demands on a multibillion-dollar farm bill, considering reduced subsidies for wealthy farmers.
Earlier in the day, Bush had renewed his call to reduce such subsidies, saying the “massive, bloated” bill would do little to stem rising food costs. Negotiators met with Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer soon afterward.
That meeting was “sobering,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). He said the administration had a laundry list of demands for the legislation, which lawmakers were hurrying to finish before the current farm law expires Friday. The law has been extended several times, and lawmakers have said another one-week extension may be necessary.
Emerging from several hours of meetings, Conrad and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said negotiators would further limit subsidies and cut other spending in response to the administration’s demands.
“We moved considerably,” said Harkin, though he declined to share specifics and said all of the bill’s negotiators had not yet agreed on the cuts.
Lawmakers reached a tentative agreement last week on how to pay for the massive bill, which would cost almost $300 billion over the next five years, but they have not finished resolving policy issues.
One of the last sticking points is how much would be paid to farmers in a time of record crop prices.
Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, and he showed no signs of backing off that threat Tuesday.
“The bill Congress is now considering would fail to eliminate subsidy payments to multimillionaire farmers,” Bush said. “America’s farm economy is thriving. The value of farmland is skyrocketing. And this is the right time to reform our nation’s farm policies by reducing unnecessary subsidies.”