U.S. Congress, President Bush pass fifth farm bill extension

By Kris Bevill and Hope Deutscher | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted April 28, 2008 at 11:36 a.m. CST

Despite urgings from U.S. President Bush to extend the current farm bill for one year, the U.S. Congress passed another one-week extension on April 24. President Bush signed the extension on April 25, giving Congress until May 2 to pass new legislation.

Hours after Bush had signed off on the extension, farm bill negotiators reached a tentative agreement on the agriculture policy, utilizing the $10 billion above baseline has been worked out among key farm bill negotiators. He added that specific details and funding will still have to be worked out and are all subject to ratification by the full conference committee.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the senate's agriculture committee said the tentative agreement reached Friday afternoon maintains strong farm income security and a permanent disaster program. "It will solidify the future of the Conservation Security Program, now the Conservation Stewardship Program, returning it to the program it was intended to be when first enacted in the 2002 farm bill," Harkin said. "It invests heavily in renewable energy and will help bring the promise of cellulosic biofuels to reality by providing grants and loans to move from corn ethanol to other renewable feedstocks."
Chairman Harkin intends to convene the conference committee early this week.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer told Ethanol Producer Magazine in March he was confident a bill would be passed by mid-April. In a statement given to EPM April 24, Schafer expressed his growing frustration with the passage of several extensions by Congress. "We [USDA] have provided the suggested funding sources to offset the increased spending, and made clear we will not accept gimmicks that are funded in part by additional tax revenues," Schafer said. "They must provide reform to better focus farm bill support where it is needed and in the most effective manner of support."

Harkin said they want to avoid passing a one-year extension and would like to continue working on what they feel is a good bill now. "To do that we need another short-term extension to allow the work to get completed, including the working out of the offsets and taxes issues," he said. "I urge the President not just to sign that extension, but to begin to show constructive leadership in helping us to get this bill done."

Bush has said if Congress can't agree on the approximately $280-billion five-year farm bill, then the current bill, passed in 2002, should be extended for another year.