- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

(AP) The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is proposing a series of agricultural tax credits, bonds and a trust fund as part of a farm bill that would give billions in aid to farmers and pay for the nation’s nutrition programs.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said yesterday his committee will find an extra $8 billion to $10 billion through new agriculture-related tax proposals. That would be added to the bill’s baseline spending, estimated to be more than $280 billion over five years.

Money has been tight for the farm bill, a politically popular piece of legislation that expires this year. Farm-state lawmakers have scrambled to find a way to pay for it as the Sept. 30 deadline looms.

The finance panel’s proposals include a trust fund that would pay for weather-related disaster assistance — a priority in Mr. Baucus’ home state. That could set up a fight with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who would rather use extra money for conservation programs that protect environmentally sensitive farmland, nutrition programs and other agricultural needs.

The House passed its version of the farm bill in July with an extra $6.2 billion paid for partly by a tax on certain multinational companies with U.S. subsidiaries. That proposal almost derailed the normally bipartisan bill as Republicans revolted and called it a tax increase.

Mr. Baucus, who also sits on the Agriculture Committee, has said he doesn’t think that tax would make it through the Senate. Instead, he has proposed giving farmers tax credits instead of cash payments for some conservation programs and offering tax incentives for rural economic development and bioenergy programs.

The disaster trust fund would help reimburse farmers who have lost crops or ranchland because of weather. That assistance has been paid through emergency dollars in recent years, and has occasionally threatened to stall spending bills as Western and Midwestern members have made recovering those losses a priority.

Mr. Baucus said the disaster trust fund would be paid for with “various provisions” under the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction.

Under the proposal, farmers who receive subsidies for conserving farmland would be able to choose whether they want tax credits or federal cash. The plan also includes tax credit bonds for projects such as rural electric and telemedicine, rural broadband and other rural economic development.

Mr. Baucus said he also intends to include proposals that were part of an energy tax bill that stalled in the Senate earlier this year, including tax incentives for wind energy and biofuels.

Though the proposal differs from the House bill, that may not be a problem for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, Minnesota Democrat. Mr. Peterson was supportive of the tax measure that passed the House but has said he is open to other ways to pay for the bill.

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