ARLINGTON, Va. (Dow Jones)--U.S. farmers are in danger of not getting a new farm bill this year if Congress and the White House do not reach an agreement on spending and subsidy reform levels by March 15, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said Thursday.
Schafer, speaking at USDA's annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, said he was optimistic that if the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and White House can agree on at least a "framework" for a farm bill that does not include new tax revenue and cuts farm subsidies, a new farm bill can be completed.
Congress has extended the 2002 farm bill -- originally set to expire back in September 2007 -- until March 15. If a new deal can be reached for a 2008 farm bill by then, Schafer said, it would not be difficult for Congress to issue another short-term extension while the details are settled.
House agriculture leaders have already agreed to a "framework" farm bill plan that Bush administration officials have tentatively agreed to. Senate leaders have not agreed.
Schafer reiterated that the White House will not agree to a farm bill that goes more than $6 billion over-budget and does include revenue-raising tax measures or budget gimmicks that mask spending. The Senate version of the farm bill is $12.5 billion to $23.5 billion over-budget, depending on whether budget gimmicks are factored in, Schafer said.
If a deal to produce a farm bill that President George W. Bush would be willing to sign cannot be reached, Schafer said, there will likely be no new farm bill this year and the 2002 farm bill would have to be further extended.
U.S. farmers would lose out in that scenario, USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner told Dow Jones Newswires. A new farm bill would mean new government support to improve the U.S. ethanol and biofuels industry, agricultural exports and farm credit. Farmers would lose all of that, Conner said, without a 2008 farm bill.
Source: Bill Tomson, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-646-0088; firstname.lastname@example.org