WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress needs another short-term extension of U.S. agricultural programs, the fifth since expiration of the 2002 law, so it can wrap up a new $600 billion farm law, the House Agriculture Committee chairman said on Wednesday.
President George W. Bush says lawmakers should admit defeat on the farm bill after weeks of deadlock. Instead, Bush says, they should extend the 2002 farm law for one year. That would hand the overhaul of U.S. farm and food programs to the next president and a new session of Congress.
An extension of the 2002 law would end months of work in Congress toward larger funding for food stamps, land stewardship, specialty crops and biofuels.
“Most of my members would rather get a farm bill than get a one-year extension,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “I still hold out some hope that we will be able to get a farm bill. I think we’re pretty close.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said the Senate was expected to vote later on Wednesday for a short-term extension. The House would vote later, possibly on Thursday.
A Senate aide said a two-week extension was the goal.
Without action, the farm program would revert to 1949 rules that double or triple subsidy rates and allow land controls.
“The Senate’s going to do the extension, move first,” Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, said in a break between meetings of senior lawmakers aimed at a farm bill agreement.
A one-week extension of agricultural programs expires on Friday. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Congress has three days left to resolve the farm bill.
“The president wants them to, if they can’t resolve it, then to go ahead and push for a year-long extension, at least a year long,” said Perino.
The White House has not ruled out a short-term extension and it would be preferable to operating under 1949 law, a House Agriculture Committee staffer said.
Despite long-running disagreement over the new farm bill, lawmakers are reluctant to stop work on it because of the promise of a $10 billion spending increase. However, the House and Senate have different ideas of how to pay for the increase and the Senate insists on a $2.4 billion tax package as well.
Perino said it would be premature to say if there would be a veto of the new farm law. “Let them (farm bill negotiators) see what they can get done over the next two or three days,” she said.
On Tuesday, Bush said the farm bill, as it now stands, raises taxes, uses budget gimmicks to disguise $16 billion in additional spending and fails to reform farm programs.
Editing by Marguerita Choy