Senate GOP Blocking Farm Bill Debate; Bush Threatens Veto

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 07 Nov 2007 15:46:00 GMT

Senate debate on the farm bill (HR 2419/S 2302/SA 3500) stalled yesterday when Republicans objected to a unanimous consent resolution that only germane amendments could be proposed. Reid responded by filling the amendment tree with germane amendments, including the Grassley-Dorgan amendment to limit farm payments (SA 3508) and the Lugar-Lautenberg FRESH Act (S 2228) as a substitute bill.

Also yesterday the White House announced its intentions to veto the Senate version of the farm bill (Harkin, S 2302/SA 3500), stating its opposition for budget accounting reasons, though its opposition to the kinds of subsidy reforms in the Harkin bill is also known.

If the farm bill is stalled through the Thanksgiving recess beginning at the end of next week, Reid said subjects the Senate may consider include:
  • a repeal of the estate tax
  • S-CHIP
  • Iraq war amendments
  • labor issues
From CQ:
White House Threatens Veto of Senate Farm Bill By Adrianne Kroepsch, CQ Staff

The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the Senate version of a five-year farm bill, but it isn’t likely to receive a final measure anytime soon.

The Senate debate on the legislation (HR 2419) ground to a halt almost immediately as Republicans refused to agree to offer only amendments relevant to the bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., retaliated with a parliamentary maneuver that effectively blocked all amendments except those senators unanimously agree to consider.

The White House objected to the budget accounting of the farm package.

The legislation would shift the timing of farm payments in a fashion “that does not allow for the proper accounting of $9.8 billion in actual government outlays,” according to the statement of administration policy.

The formal veto followed a warning Monday by acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner, who said the legislation hides new spending by shifting billions of dollars in payments outside the 10-year horizon used in the budget accounting.

The bill “does not meet the spirit” of congressional budget rules requiring new expenditures to be offset by revenue increases or spending cuts, Conner said.

President Bush is eager to sign a farm bill this year, but he would veto the Senate version as it stands, the White House said.

Despite a strong agricultural economy, the farm bill would not make “significant farm program reform” as the administration requested in January, the statement said. Instead, the measure would increase price supports and continue to send farm subsidies to the wealthy, it said.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the veto threat premature.

“The president has threatened a veto before the bill has been debated, before amendments have been offered, and before it’s been passed,” Reid said Tuesday morning. “Here we go again.”

Reid also railed against the White House and the Agriculture Department for not overhauling the offending farm subsidy policies themselves.

“The Bush administration has had every opportunity to fix the issue of non-farmers receiving farm payments. . . . This can all be changed by fixing [USDA] regulations. You don’t have to change the law,” Reid said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns spent the year leading up to the farm bill giving presentations on the topic. “He should’ve been giving a Power Point presentation about why the Bush administration hasn’t fixed it,” Reid said.

The administration urged the Senate to remove provisions of the bill it called trade-distorting, and to eliminate timing shifts that mask billions in costs and remove tax increases.

Amendment Battle

The tax-related provisions of the bill — folded into the measure after Senate Finance Committee approval — could be one of the trickiest portions of the bill under debate this week.

Reid has said repeatedly that he will not allow “mischievous” tax amendments — on topics ranging from capital gains rates to the estate tax — to be considered on the Senate floor during farm bill debate. “I have indicated that we will take only relevant amendments,” he repeated Tuesday.

But when Reid sought unanimous consent to allow only relevant amendments to be offered, Republicans objected.

Senate Republicans appeared ready to stall action on the measure. That could jeopardize Reid’s goal of passing the farm bill before the Thanksgiving recess begins at the end of next week.

“If people don’t want to do work on the farm bill, that’s their right as a senator. I am certainly not going to file cloture this week,” Reid said. “But I don’t think that’s a very productive way of doing things, when I’ve indicated I will take relevant amendments.”

Senators on both sides of the aisle were readying a repeal of the estate tax, another stab at overhauling children’s health insurance, amendments dealing with the war in Iraq and labor-related proposals, among others, Reid said.

He responded with a procedural move, “filling the amendment tree” with proposals directly related to the farm bill, including one by Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., to limit farm payments and a substitute bill by Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., among others.

That blocked all other amendments unless unanimous consent was granted.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., protested the maneuver.

“The Senate is now gridlocked on the farm bill because of majority’s decision to fill up the amendment tree,” McConnell said. “What will have to happen at this point — which happens every day on every bill here in the Senate — is that we’re going to have to sit down outside of the chamber and figure out a way to go forward. We’re not going to be able to go forward under the existing circumstances.”


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