- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lawmakers reached agreement yesterday on an election-year overhaul of farm programs that would boost subsidies by about 70 percent, the lead Senate negotiator said.

If the deal holds, it would end two months of talks and could affect several important Senate races this fall.

"I'll tell you who wins the American farmer," said the lead House negotiator Larry Combest, Texas Republican.

The lawmakers refused to discuss most terms of the deal, saying it is still subject to pending revisions in cost estimates. But current estimates are that the accord would increase total agriculture spending by about $7.4 billion a year.

However, there would be no significant new limits on the payments that individual farms could collect.

Despite widespread support in the House and Senate for restrictions on subsidies to big farms, the agreement would keep alive a program that allows grain, cotton and soybean growers to collect unlimited amounts of crop subsidies.

"Any big cotton or rice operator or superlarge corn and soybean operator is now going to have absolutely no restraints whatsoever," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said the agreement includes his $2 billion proposal to reward farmers for improved environmental practices the largest single new program in the farm bill.

Some Republican House members emerged from a briefing by the negotiators last night to say that the bill could change depending on final cost estimates.

"The whole thing could blow up. I don't think it will. It depends on those numbers," said Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

The legislation will replace farm, nutrition and land-conservation programs set to expire this fall. The new bill would expire in 2008, a presidential election year.

Negotiators were stalled for weeks over issues that included subsidy rates for corn, soybeans and other crops; White House plans for expanding the food-stamp program; and a proposal to require meat and produce to be labeled with their country of origin.

Other disagreements involved limits on payments to individual farms, a new dairy subsidy program and a ban on meatpacker ownership of cattle.

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