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Bush to determine status of Farm Bill as deadline closes

By Clarisse Douaud , 02-May-2008

The current farm bill is set to expire today, though President George W Bush is pressing for a one-year extension on hammering out the new bill as Congress tackles restructuring traditionally heavy subsidy programs to farmers.

The farm bill dates back to the Great Depression and outlines agricultural spending ranging from subsidies for farmers to food stamps for the poor. The bill is politically sensitive as many rural representatives are speaking in the name of large farmers, while representatives with more urban voters advocate greater food stamp and nutrition program spending.


President Bush opposes the proposed 2007 Farm Bill and has said it is still too expensive and does not allow for a large enough cut in subsidies to wealthy farmers.


The 2007 bill would cost more than $280bn over a period of five years.


"Unfortunately, Congress is considering a massive, bloated farm bill that would do little to solve the problem. The bill Congress is now considering would fail to eliminate subsidy payments to multi-millionaire farmers," said the president Tuesday.


The president said such subsidies are financially constraining at a time when food prices have skyrocketed.


"It's not the time to ask American families who are already paying more in the check-out line to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers," said Bush at another press conference in April. "Congress can reform our farm programs, and should, by passing a fiscally responsible bill that treats our farmers fairly, and does not impose new burdens on American taxpayers."


Nonetheless, say observers, cuts in subsidies would not readily bring about a decrease in food prices.


The bill would, however, increase spending on nutrition programs that could offset the blow of food prices for some.


In the proposed bill, food stamp and nutrition programs account for approximately two-thirds of the spending. This funding would come in the form of financial assistance to low-income families for buying food, and would involve a switch from paper food stamps to electronic ones.


As well, funding for purchasing fruits and vegetables for children at school would be increased.


The money for this would be derived from taxing foreign companies with operations in the US currently not be paying all domestic taxes.


"With record farm income, now is not the time for Congress to ask other sectors of the economy to pay higher taxes in order to increase the size of government," said the president last month. "The proposal would increase spending by at least $16bn, masked in part by budgetary gimmicks and funded in part by additional tax revenues."


The deadline for the existing bill has been extended numerous times since 2007, as politicians debate over the highly diverse and complex piece of legislation. As such, the president has not only called for a one-year extension to allow sufficient time to iron out the details of farm spending, but has also threatened to veto the bill entirely.


"Despite the passage of more than a year since my administration unveiled a responsible and forward-looking farm bill proposal, there are no signs that the conference committee will reach agreement on an acceptable farm bill by Friday.


I therefore call on Congress to provide our agricultural producers with the certainty to make sound business and planting decisions about this year's crop by extending current law for at least one year," he said prior to a previous deadline in April.


Some lawmakers have argued the bill holds too many items that do not belong in a farm bill. For instance, the Senate created a tax break for race horse owners and another for the timber industry.

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